August 2017 - Room 213

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Blending Reading & Writing Workshop: A Closer Look at My Lessons


Yesterday, I shared my long range plans for assessment and the weekly schedule for my blended workshop. Today, we're going to get into the nitty-gritty. (I will also be mailing out a lesson plan as part of my Five Days of Workshop Freebies, so be sure to sign up for the mailing list.)

Every Monday, I will be sharing a weekly goal with my students. During the week, I will choose titles for book talks that demonstrate the skill we are working on and all my mini-lessons will focus on it as well. I will do quickie conferences all week to see what students already know; then, my one-on-one conferences the next week will focus on assessing the students understanding of the topic and attainment of the skill.


Tips and tricks for blending reading and writing workshop in the secondary classroom.
Let's look at that a little more closely. One of my first weeks of workshop will focus on word choice, how writers use diction for effect. I will book talk two different novels that demonstrate how authors do this. One of these books will be Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. As I give a synopsis of the book, I'll read some quotes and point out how the wording is important. For example, I will project this sentence, and ask them which word(s) are important in creating meaning in this sentence:

“I was trying so hard to find the single pivotal moment that set my life on its path. The moment that answered the question, 'How did I get here?'" 


If they don't point it out themselves, I'll ask them about the word pivotal and how it affects the sentence. We will also talk about the use of the word path and why Yoon would choose to use it. Then, we will talk about Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, and I'll project this passage: 


“People like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe.” 


We will discuss why she chose to say that people "like us" become hashtags and why she chose the word maybe. With both quotes, we will spend some time discussing how a different word would change the context of the sentence. Then, I'll ask them to look in the novels they are reading for places where the author used words deliberately.


Next, I'll do a quick lesson on tired words and active verbs and instruct the students to look for places where authors used strong verbs and avoided a tired word like good, very, nice, etc.  After they have time to do so, I'll have them share what they discovered with a partner. Then, I'll give them some exercises that allow them to practice using strong words. After they've completed the exercise, they will get to work on their own writing. During this time, I'll circulate with my clipboard and ask kids to show me the sentences they identified in their novels. We'll wrap up with a sharing session.


We'll repeat this process on Tuesday with different texts and more skill building exercises on tone and  connotation. Wednesday will be similar, but I will use non-fiction texts to illustrate how these authors also use their words effectively. During silent reading time, students will select non-fiction texts from my collection (or on their e-devices), and use those as mentor texts during mini-lesson time.


Thursdays and Fridays will be devoted to the students having more time to read and write. They will get a longer period of time to read, then I will be using stations to get them to focus on the writing process.

If you're looking for some help with all of this, check out the following products:
Word Choice Lessons -- Chock full of lessons to teach students about the power of words.
Short Mentor Texts - Sentences and short passages that ask students to note and mimic the techniques used by the writers.
Writer's Workshop Learning Stations and Reader's Workshop Stations--Focus students as they work on their reading and writing.


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Blending Reading & Writing Workshop: Organization & Assessment

Yesterday, I wrote about the reasons why I'm going to blend my reading and writing workshops this year. Now, as promised, I'm going to share more of the specifics for how I'm going to do that (be sure you're signed up for my newsletter so you can receive the freebies that are associated with this post).

Let me start at the end. Before I can get too far in planning my blended workshop, I have to know where I'm going, what I want students to be able to do, and how I am going to assess their progress and success. Our department does not have a final pen and paper exam; instead, students complete a final assessment that focuses on all of the strands of our curriculum - speaking and listening, reading and viewing, writing and representing. This final assessment, a mulit-genre project, will be worth twenty percent of the final grade, with the other eighty coming from their classwork throughout the semester.

Final Assessment: the multi-genre project: 

Tips and tricks for blending reading and writing workshop in the secondary classroom.
This project will actually begin early in the semester with an inquiry question that students would like to explore. They will choose a question; then, attempt to find answers for their inquiry question in the books they read and use these ideas as a jumping off point for their own writing. At the end of the year, they will complete a multi-genre project that will illustrate their exploration of the question. This will require that they explore the ideas in non-fiction, poetry and other texts as well as their novels. It will also require that they experiment with various types of writing as they explore the idea. Students will pass the completed assignment in to me for assessment, but they will also present a portion of it as part of the speaking component of the course.


The remaining eighty percent of their mark will come from the following: 

1. A final portfolio and conference: 
During the final conference, students will show me the work that they choose to put in their portfolio, work that represents their growth as a reader and writer over the semester. They will need to show me evidence that they have attained (or are working on) the skills we focused on during the semester. The portfolio will include their top three pieces of writing, ranked from one to three, along with a corresponding form that explains the reasons for their choices. They will also have a checklist of skills that we have worked on, and they will need to show me, in their writing, evidence of their success with each skill. I will already have graded or seen all of the work in the portfolio, so this is not about me assigning a "good copy" grade; instead, the portfolio and conference are about putting the responsibility on the student to show me that they have learned and grown as a writer. It's important that you give students time to do this and clear instruction about what you want the final portfolio to look like. For example, they should arrive at the conference with annotated writing, so they can quickly and easily show you their skills. You can find an editable checklist of skills in my Writer's Workshop Bundle.


During the semester, they will be assessed on the following:

2. Their Notebooks: 
Every two weeks or so, I will take in the notebooks. I will do a quick look to see if the students have been keeping up with them and that the required entries are there. Because there aren't enough hours in the day to read everything, I will ask students to use post-it notes to mark two entries: one that they are most proud of and one that they'd like some feedback on. They will write their questions and comments right on the post-it note. They will also use highlighters to indicate passages for me, so I can easily locate them. These strategies will allow me to get through the notebooks more quickly and them to get some direct feedback. This feedback is the primary purpose for me taking in the notebooks. I don't assess the students based on the quality of their work, only that it was completed.

2. Conferences: 
While my kids are writing, I will be circulating with my clipboard, doing Quickie Conferences. Student will be told what skill I'm looking at and will be ready to demonstrate it for me. For example, I might be focusing on a writer's use of figurative language for effect. Students will know they will have to find a passage in their reading and/or writing where this occurs and have it ready to show me. I'll circulate and have a sheet with everyone's name on it and stop at each student's desk. They will show me the passage; if they are bang on, I'll check them off. If they aren't correct, we'll have a quick conversation about it. These checklists will go in a binder for later reference. My longer conferences will require that I sit down with students one-on-one. I use this time to focus on skills that take a little longer to demonstrate, or to do some instruction, based on the deficits I found during the quickie conferences.

3. Annotated Good Copies: 
When I asked for good copies in years gone by, I wanted perfectly edited and formatted assignments. I still do. However, now good copies come in with words, phrases, and even whole passages highlighted or underlined. There will be writing in the margins. If the work comes in electronically, students will use the comment section of Google Docs to make notes.  This is because I'm putting more responsibility on the students for their evaluation. I want them to do the thinking necessary to illustrate that they have learned the targeted skills for that assignment. As a side bonus, this process makes it a lot easier to grade because the student has already pointed out the elements that you are looking for. They will also be required to write a short reflection about the piece and the process they went through to create it.

4. Speaking & Listening Assignments: 
Reading and writing is not the only part of my curriculum, so we will also be working on speaking and listening skills. Students will get formative and peer assessment based on the talking they do during conferences and small group discussions, but they will also have several formal speaking assignments throughout the semester. Most of these will occur during the later half of the course, when I actually add in two full class studies: Macbeth and Animal Farm. I believe there is benefit in doing full class study and you can read about my reasoning here. This year, instead of dividing up the week, we are doing just workshop until November when we will do the full class texts together. At this time, students will do several speaking assignments, including a rhetorical speech and a debate. These go very well with Macbeth and Animal Farm, as we take a close look at the power of language with those texts.

Class Organization
Now that I have my assessments planned, I can zero in on what my days will look like. This is the plan for now:

Monday-Wednesday (focus on skill building)
There is no one-size fits all approach to workshop, but, generally, teachers who use workshop will include silent reading, book talks, mini-lessons, independent work, collaborative work and sharing. The length of time devoted to these elements will vary, based on the age of your students and the length of your classes. I have high school students for seventy-five minutes a day for one semester. That's a long class, but if you have a shorter one, you likely have your kids for the whole year. Therefore, you can allow less time for each segment and just take longer to get through the lessons.

1. Silent Reading for fifteen minutes (this will usually be at the beginning of class, but sometimes I'll start with a prompt; On Wednesdays students may be asked to choose to read something from another genre*).

2. Book Talk & Mini-Lesson (10-15 minutes)

3. Skill Building Exercise (10-15 minutes)

4. Independent Writing Time (conferences) (15-20 minutes)

5. Sharing Time - students will share their work with others to get feedback (10 minutes)

6. Closure (2-5 minutes)

* Genre reading -- Students will primarily be reading novels during workshop. However, I need to expose them to other genres, like short stories, non-fiction, poetry and drama. Therefore, on Wednesdays, they may be required to choose from collections I will provide for them in the classroom, depending on the focus for the week.

Thursday-Friday (focus on writing process)
On these days, I want students to dig in and work.  They will get a longer silent reading period (20 - 25 minutes) and then with they remaining time, they will move through stations, as necessary, to work on the areas that they need to focus on. During this time, I'll be doing individual conferences or small group instruction.  The conferences will focus on the student's attainment of last week's goal and the small group instruction will be based on the needs I've been noticing during the quickie conferences. and/or notebook assessment. For example, I might group the students who are struggling with transitions to do a short reinforcement lesson with them.

So there it is, the plan for 2017, semester one. Since I began using workshop, no semester has been the same, as I keep tweaking it to make it better. I am by no means an expert, so I'd love to have you share your great ideas so others can learn for them too. And stay tuned, as I'll be sharing more specifics all week.  Make sure you're signed up for the newsletter, so you can receive five days of freebies for your workshop!


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5 Ways to Blend Reader's and Writer's Workshop


I get a lot of questions about the best way to balance reading and writing workshop; it's something that I've struggled with myself on my journey with this approach. However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why do we want to separate them at all?

Reading and writing are closely entwined. That's obvious. And yet, we tend to teach them as separate entities, even during workshop time. However, whether students are reading beautifully written language, or experimenting with it themselves, they are learning to become skilled readers and writers. It's all so inextricably linked.  


But, the question remains, how do you combine reading and writing workshop? Let's start with a look at some of the common core standards for reading literature in grade nine and ten:


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.5 
Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.4 

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

And now, check out these standards for writing in the same grades:


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.3.B

Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.3.D 
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.


Even though the wording is a little different, each standard is basically asking the kids to focus on the same concepts, so why not ask them to do it all at once, rather than during separate lessons? That's exactly what I plan to do this year. As always, it'll be a work in progress for me, but I will share my successes and failures as I go, as well as some of the tools I will use to blend these two workshops. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter above to get some freebies in your inbox this week!

Here are four ways that I plan to blend reading and writing workshop:

Tips and tricks for blending reading and writing workshop in the secondary classroom.
1. Book Talks:
Book talks are an essential ingredient for a reader's workshop. We use them to spread the work about great reads, inspiring the kids to pick up a title they might not otherwise choose. However, if you are more deliberate with planning your book talk, you can use it for a writing mentor text at the same time. For example, at the beginning of the year, I always talk about the methods authors pull their readers into their stories. I want my readers to be able to identify and evaluate these techniques. I also want my writers to be able to craft engaging openings to their texts too, whether they are writing a narrative, a description, a poem or a non-fiction piece. I will gather a variety of novels with great openings, as well as some magazine and newspaper articles. We will evaluate them as readers, and then, during independent work time, students will use some of them as mentor texts to experiment with in their own writing. 

2. Student Novels as Mentor Texts 

When we do writing prompts and/or skill building exercises, I will ask students to use the novels they are reading as mentor texts. In the example above, after I show them the openings from the texts I have found, they will evaluate the effectiveness of opening lines of their novel, either in writing or in a conference with me. But, they will also be expected to use it as a model, and to try some of the writer's techniques themselves. If I'm teaching them about variety in sentence length, they will be tasked with the job of looking for examples in their novel and again, use them as a models. It's so easy to make that link -- and it's easier for the teacher, because you don't have to spend hours looking for mentor texts. It puts more responsibility on the students to do the thinking and the work, and it is an activity that blends reading and writing skills, as they have to be able to identify the technique in the novel (reading) and use it in their own writing.


3. Reading/Writing Notebook
I don't see any need to have two separate notebooks for reading and writing workshop, especially if I'm combining lessons as I explained above. The kids don't need another thing to keep track of (nor do you) and, if you're linking reading skills and writing skills, it only makes sense to link the notebooks as well.  Whether they are writing about the book they are reading, using a writing prompt, or using their own ideas, the end result is the same.  

4. Inquiry Questions

Inquiry questions are a staple in my classroom. I use them to approach everything we do, so I can link what happens in my room with what's happening in the students' lives. It makes them see the relevance in what we do and increases engagement significantly (you can read about how it works in Room 213 here). This year, instead of giving them the question, I'm going to open it up and let them choose their own. In the initial weeks of workshop, I want the kids to think about big questions that they'd like to find answers for. Then, they will attempt to find those answers in the books they read and use these ideas as jumping off point for their own writing. At the end of the year, they will complete a multi-genre project that will illustrate their exploration of the question. This will require that they explore the ideas in non-fiction, poetry and other texts as well as their novels. It will also require that they experiment with various types of writing as they explore the idea. 

5. Conferences

Conferencing is another essential component of the workshop approach, as they allow you time to instruct and assess your students. These provide another easy way to blend your reading and writing workshop. If I have a conference to assess a student's ability to understand how authors use language for effect, I'll ask them to show me examples from their novels and their pieces of writing. Not only is this "one-stop shopping" for the teacher, but it's a process that makes sense. Separating reading from writing is kind of like separating multiplication from division in math. Yes, they are separate skills, but students use them simultaneously in math class. 

Keep following for more details on how I blend my workshops, including the assessments that I plan to use. More posts coming soon.  And don't forget to sign up for the newsletter, so you can receive free products to use in your classroom.





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If Teacher Isn't Happy, Nobody's Happy: Five Things to Take Care of First


It's taken my two decades of fighting against my type A perfectionist self to realize that one of the most important thing I need to do to have a good year, is to take care of myself.  It doesn't matter if I have the most engaging, mind-blowing lessons if I can't maintain the pace all semester.  If I can't sleep all night without waking up with my mind racing, if I can't have enough energy when I come home to be a good mother to my children, then something is not right.

So as I begin yet another school year, I am committing to five things that going to be a priority so I can be healthy, happy and sane:

1.  Exercise
I don't need to remind you of the research. We all know that we are healthier and happier when we move our bodies. I certainly am. However, after a long, demanding school day, I am really good at rationalizing why I'm better off exercising my ability to select something on Netflix than putting on my sneakers. This needs to stop. I am committing to doing something every day, whether it's a trip to the gym or a long walk with a friend (which is a double whammy). Even if I am exhausted -- which I will be during the first few weeks of school -- I am going to at least spend twenty minutes doing squats and weights while I watch Netflix.

2.  Eat Well
Right now, I'm on vacation and have lots of time to make some delicious and nutritious meals. Once school starts, though, it's harder to do that. But it's still just as necessary. To prevent myself from diving into a bag of chips after school, I'm not going to have any in the house. I'll stock up on healthy snacks so the temptation is not there. Also, I'm going to get back into the habit of spending a few hours on Sunday afternoons, making some meals that I can use all week: a casserole or a big pot of spaghetti sauce that will last for more than one meal,  and pre-chopped veggies that can be used for a salad or a stir-fry. It takes some time, yes, but it will ensure that my family and I are getting the good fuel we need for the week.


3.  Get Some Silent Time 
I desperately need some time when my brain isn't running a mile a minute, as it is prone to do. If I don't find ways to slow it down, I can run around like an Energizer Bunny until, inevitably, I crash, overwhelmed and unable to do anything well. Electronics have added to this problem, as there's always something for me to check or look up. I'm committing to carving out more quiet time. I'm going to give myself at least twenty minute a day when I leave my phone upstairs and grab a book or do some meditating -- anything that will distract my mile-a-minute mind from highjacking the time I need to unwind.

4.  Avoid the Drama
I don't know about your school, but at mine there's always some sort of drama. One staff member is ticked about something and another is incensed about something else. The staff room can become a cesspool of complaint that goes way beyond healthy venting, and I can get sucked deeply into it. I know that the best way to stay healthy is to just avoid certain people and certain situations. I'd also like to cultivate the art of diverting the conversation so I don't have to avoid. Until I do, however, for my own health, I will be seeking out the positive people who make me feel better when I leave the conversation, instead of worse.


5. Remember That It's Just. A. Job.
I know it's a calling and a passion; I get that. However, it is a job that can suck the life out of you and your relationships if you can't separate it from the rest of your life. Yes, we need to do homework in the evening and on weekends, but we need to make time for ourselves, our families and friends a priority in the after work hours. I don't have an answer for how to shut it off, but I do know that it has to happen. So, this year, I plan to work on strategies for walking away, for sometimes accepting less than my best. That might sound like a bad thing, but I don't think it is. I can go into overdrive and put way more time and energy into a lesson than is really necessary. Instead, I need to know when enough is enough. For example, maybe it is ok to use last year's untweaked lesson and go to a movie with a friend instead of reworking it.

That's my plan and I hope I can stick to it. There will be times that I do go for the junk food or get sucked into some hallway drama, but as long as I stay committed to trying, I should have a happy and healthy year. I hope you do too!

* One way you can get a break is to let other people help you. I've got lots of  classroom tested lessons and activities that you can check out, including this FREE back to school activity. Grab it by clicking here.


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