Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Assignment Seven: Student Writing Conference

ASSIGNMENT SEVEN: Student Writing Conference - Choose one or two children (classroom students, relatives, neighbors...) to conduct an informal conference with. You may choose to use one of Regie’s formats, your own or the one below, which I use in a conferring notebook. You need to find a system that will work for you. Example 1 (and below) is the format I use for each writing conference that I hold with students. Keep in mind that while you are conferring with students, the majority of other students should be writing!

(Note: If you aren’t currently teaching please find a school-age child to do a conference with. We believe you will find it is worth the effort.) 

Student Name:                                                     Date:

? (Question- Teacher asks)- “What are you
working on today in your writing?”

C (Compliment)- Compliment the student on one
strategy they are using well.

TP (Teaching Point)- What is one
strategy/point/goal you can teach this student to
move them forward?

FNT (For Next Time)- What needs to be a focus
during the next conference/what were set goals?

ASSIGNMENT SEVEN: After completing your one or two conferences, please reflect on how well they went and how they will impact your whole group, small group and independent instruction in your classroom. Post your reflective response to the blog.

Assignment Six: DVD Reflection

ASSIGNMENT SIX: DVD Reflection- Included in your text is a DVD containing video clips of Regie’s conferences with writers in the classroom. There is a detailed commentary accompanying the DVD on page 336 of her text. Please watch the DVD and then look at her teaching notes beginning on page 336 (Regie suggests just watching without notes first so that you don’t miss what she and the students are doing.) After both watching and reading her notes, write your reflection and please post a copy of your DVD Reflection to the blog.

*NOTE: If you experience problems playing the DVD please refer to the Writing Essentials companion website at www.heinemann.com/writingessentials for directions for playing the DVD. Look in the upper right hand corner for the link.

Assignment Five: Written Reflection- Section Three

ASSIGNMENT FIVE: WRITTEN REFLECTION-Section Three- The Essential Writing Day Chapters 7-10

Chapter 7: Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills
• How might we integrate skill work into student writing rather than teaching it in isolation?
• Daily Oral Language exercises – THEY DON’T WORK!!!
• The importance of focusing on meaning and quality first
• All writing needs both a PURPOSE and an AUDIENCE
• How thinking aloud can make your teaching more explicit
• Teaching WRITING – not just the language of writing (process, process, process)
• What about writing standards? In your District and State?
• Key writing minilessons
• Revision – how to get students to care about it
• Letting kids in on the secret that – Yes! – Conventions do matter!
• How can we effectively use word walls?

In Chapter 7, suitably titled “Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills,” Regie gets to the heart of what so many teachers struggle with: “Fitting it all in!!!” Many of the elementary teachers that we work with are beginning to feel as though their personal motto is: “Jack of all trades; master of none.” We just don’t have the time to teach well what has to be taught. The only answer to this problem is to modify our instruction so it agrees with Regie’s stance that isolated skill work (such as Friday spelling tests, DOL, grammar worksheets…) will not help our students grow into writers (or readers.) On page 144, Regie shares four components for an integrated Writing Workshop:

1. Identify writing genres that would interest students (and meet district requirements)
2. Decide who the audience would be for each piece of writing.*
3. Model your own writing process and show students how you struggle.
4. Have students share writing regularly (for both celebration and great teaching moments.)
*This created the biggest change in my own class’s writing - once my students began to write with an audience in mind, the quality of writing shot right up!

Regie also gets to the heart of what writing with “voice” really is and addresses how to teach children to write with an honest voice in their own writing. She describes voice as “the writer’s unique personality on paper, his own melody in words, her ‘mark’ as an individual. To write with voice, the writer has to be interested in the writing.” We think that many teachers and students are unclear as to how to add true voice to their writing. Regie suggests, “Voice is in the details – but details that show the real person and story behind the words, not just details for the sake of adding more words…”

Integrating those isolated editing skills such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling into our writing will increase the efficiency of our instruction. Bottom line – if the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear.”

Chapter 8: Organize for Daily Writing
• What is our definition of Writing Workshop? What does Regie say?
• How can we have student choice within a structure?
• The importance of writing talk (teachers and students)
• The ultimate nightmare for all of us…scheduling…finding the time to write everyday
• The importance of routines, organization and modeling expected behavior
• Genre study – why it’s important to have both school-wide and district-wide conversations
• The possibilities within genres

Figuring out a way to “fit it all in” is usually one of the most frustrating things many of us face. It starts at the beginning of the year as we first plan our daily schedule and continues throughout the remainder of the year. Considering how you will create your schedule to include a solid chunk of time for both reading and writing will probably be the most stressful piece to the start of your year.

Create a Comprehensive Literacy Framework: Play with your time and consider what changes you might make in your daily literacy framework for next year. Take a look at the samples that Regie provides on pages 185-187 for some possibilities. You do not have to post your schedule, but we believe this is a worthwhile activity to complete on your own.

Chapter 9: Conference with Students
• What is the purpose of a Writing Conference?
• What are the different types of Writing Conferences?
• How can Share be used effectively?
• How to conduct a productive conference
• What about management and routines?

We are so glad that this chapter talks about Share during Writer’s Workshop. Too often this component is skipped by teachers who feel there isn’t enough time in the day to “fit it all in.” However, it’s a vital piece of the workshop and beneficial to all the students. Share sessions are an additional time to teach. The teachers in my school are quite comfortable using Share as their mini-lesson if the need arises. Given the reality of daily schedules they were finding that they couldn’t have a mini-lesson, confer and share everyday. They then realized that their Shares sometimes were the minilessons. For more information about Share we recommend looking at Leah Mermelstein’s Don’t Forget To Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop. In this slim book, Leah explains in detail four types of Share: Content Share, Craft Share, Process Share and Progress Share.

The “Tips for Successful Whole-Class Shares and Conferences” on page 215 are excellent ones to keep in mind. The bottom line for Conferences and Shares is that students should feel successful and want to continue to write. Make sure what you say to the child encourages them to keep on writing. “The conference is secondary; the student as writer and confident learner is primary.”

Chapter 10: Make Assessment Count
• Understanding how rubrics work
• How can we collect reliable data on students’ writing throughout the day?
• Guidelines for grading and providing evidence for parents, administrators and the public

“There is lots of writing assessment going on these days, but little of it actually improves the quality of students’ writing.” As Regie continues she points out that this ‘assessment’ “is seldom used to improve daily instruction.” This chapter is about becoming more knowledgeable about assessments. Regie notes, that unless teachers know how to teach writing well, it can be a waste of time to examine students’ writing and place students on a writing continuum. She encourages you, as a staff to “write together, study together, converse together, gather school-wide data, analyze these data and set goals for improving writing instruction. There is no shortcut to helping students become effective writers and there is no program you can buy that will do it for you.”

Remember to use rubrics judiciously and not overdo it. They should be “used as an evaluation tool, not as the driving instructional force.” “Use professional common sense. It is not advisable to apply rubrics to ALL writing nor to score ALL writing. Just as our students need lots of practice reading many texts without the expectation that they will be assessed on everything they read, they need lots of practice writing without being assessed on everything they write.” (Page 243)

Have your students do a lot of writing! “Extensive writing across the curriculum as part of an excellent writing program is the best preparation for doing well on (standardized) tests. Readers have to read avidly to become readers and the same holds true for writers. Kids who write a lot develop higher-order thinking and understanding that translates to higher achievement on all types of tests.” Be sure to check out “Try It Apply It” on page 246 and throughout the chapter for ideas to incorporate into your program.

As Regie points out in this chapter, “The joy has gone out of writing.” We need to “concentrate on developing kids as learners rather than kids as test takers.”

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Assignment Four: Written Reflection

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.

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, October 2, 2016

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.

Assignment One: Introduction

Welcome to Essentials of Writing! We look forward to working and learning with you. In order for everyone to get the most out of the course, please be sure to read and respond to each others comments.Please try to keep your responses within one allotted "comment" space to ensure that the blog remains manageable for all participants.

Also, you may want to type your comments in a Word Document and either copy from Word and paste onto the blog or save it in a folder on your computer and then post it to the blog. I have written a couple of lengthy comments that I lost before I was able to post it to the blog. This extra step may save you some frustration later on this term.

Last of all, we will write our comments to your posts on the blog, so you will need to check back to the corresponding week for feedback (and to make additional comments if you wish.)

Let us know if you have any questions. You can email us, but please put the words "Question for Essentials of Writing" in the subject line so that we can respond in a timely fashion.

ASSIGNMENT ONE: Post your Introduction to the course Blog.

Introduction Post- Tell us about yourself. Where do you teach? What grade do you teach? How long have you been teaching? How many students are there in your class? Do you have instructional support? What does your current literacy program look like? (If you aren’t currently teaching let us know.) What is your knowledge/training in the area of literacy (be specific about your experiences teaching writing?) Does your district provide training in literacy –especially writing? If so, what exactly have they offered? Has your district been bogged down with getting students to perform well on state writing assessments – prompts? How do you feel about teaching? Are you happy at work? Also, let us know a little about you outside of the classroom: Interests/ Hobbies/Family Life? What do you hope to get out of this course? Post your reflection to the blog.

Welcome Fall 2016 Students!

Hello and Welcome to our Course.

One of the benefits of the blog format for online courses is the discourse between students. We post only one or two assignments at a time in order to foster communication between the course participants.

If you do work ahead you will need to post your reflection on the blog when the corresponding assignment is posted.

If you have a question please email us and put "Question" or "REPLY NEEDED" in the subject line so we can get back to you in a timely fashion. We frequently scan our inbox for questions but wait to reply to assignments for when we have a good chunk of time. If there is no notation in the subject line of the email, we assume it is just an assignment.

A couple of notes:

We suggest you save your work in a word processing document before posting to the blog. There have been times where something happens and a post may disappear. (Having this saved makes it easier to repost.)

Some students have experienced problems posting using Firefox. There are work-arounds, but the easiest is just to use a different browser.

In order to make the blog easier to read, and more likely that other students will read and respond to your posts, we ask that you keep your assignment to the one allotted post.
You are free to work ahead on the assignments and save them on your computer until we post on the blog.

All work due  12/5
Grades available online 12/14

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