My new office – a world of potential

Welcome back to school! For many traditional school year teachers in the U.S., this week is either professional development week or your first week back with students. I hope you are all surviving the transition and ready to get back to the critical, valuable, honorable calling of education.

I am starting this school year in a new district, in a new position. I am the Elementary Literacy Coach for Special Education in a district outside of Milwaukee, WI. There are a LOT of transitions for me! This is my first year in a role as a coach. I am so excited to be able to support teachers and help them with the ‘behind the scenes’ work that we all do. I will be helping teachers to better understand and address the literacy needs of their students. This is also a big transition for me to dive into the elementary world, since the vast majority of my teaching experience has been with middle / high school adolescents. I have so much to learn, which means a lot of potential to grow professionally (go growth mindset!).

I’d love to show you the BEFORE pictures of my new office. It’s not a classroom, since students will not use this room. I share this room with 2 other literacy coaches. It is also our book room for the elementary school at which I am housed (I serve all 4 schools in the district, but this is my home base). As such, I know I won’t be spending a TON of time here, but I do want to make it welcoming and inviting. I have a lot of work to do, but I am up for the challenge!

If you have any fun, exciting, new decorating ideas – PLEASE SHARE! I have a blank canvas inviting me. Stay tuned for AFTER pictures soon!

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Back to School Freezer Batch Cooking – Whole30 and Paleo!

Most teachers I’ve met are born planners and organizers. That is exactly how I would describe myself as well. This past summer, I dove head first into the world of Whole30 (an anti-inflammatory way of eating that centers on healthy, lean meats, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts and healthy fats – basically, no dairy or grain). I LOVED how it made me feel: strong and healthy. More than that, I loved how I DIDN’T feel anymore – no more bloating, GI discomfort, headaches, feeling sluggish. Even mosquito bites didn’t bother me as much any more, as if to say my body was healing and better able to fight.

I wanted to be able to continue eating Whole30 (W30) throughout the school year. However, as you know, time is a precious commodity, and W30 does require a lot of cooking. Armed with my favorite kitchen appliance – my Instant Pot – I spent a good amount of time this summer batch cooking and freezing for the fall. When I made dinner for the family, I’d double it and freeze half. By the end of the summer, you can see below what I amassed. These recipes include W30 as well as paleo items, as I am now in W30 maintenance and slowly adding in items that are permitted in paleo (i.e. honey) but not in W30.

In this picture you see:

  • 4 sweet potatoes slightly cooked, peeled, and diced to be added to hash – W30
  • Golden Chicken – paleo
  • Banana Porridge (Against All Grain Cookbook) – paleo
  • Salmon Cakes – W30
  • Tikka Masala – W30
  • Kalua Pig – W30
  • Texas Brisket – W30
  • Mint Chip Ice Cream (Against All Grain Cookbook) – paleo
  • Chicken Zucchini Poppers – W30
  • Frozen banana slices with almond butter – paleo
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip bread – paleo
  • Chocolate Chip cookies – paleo
  • Pulled chicken – W30
  • Stuffed Pepper mix – W30
  • 2 giant bags of frozen veggies from Costco

My first stop to prepare for this endeavor was Costco. There I was able to purchase bulk meat at a discount. Next, I treated myself to a jar of minced garlic to save me a step. I purchased a giant bag of almond meal from Amazon for the paleo recipes.

Not pictured here are the things I will make weekly, including:

  • Keto overnight oats
  • W30 Egg breakfast
  • A dozen hard boiled eggs
  • Paleo cereal

In addition, I have purchased a lot of snacks to keep in my desk, listed below:

  • Dried apple rings
  • Roasted Plantain chips
  • Rx Bars (Chocolate Sea Salt and Blueberry are my faves!)
  • Larabars
  • Fruit and veggie pouches
  • Unsalted Mixed Nuts

In the fall, I plan to warm up these items fairly quickly either by thawing them in the fridge the night before, or throwing them directly in the Instant Pot to sauté and warm up.

If you enjoy following my food journey, you can find me on Instagram! I am MightyKeka

Did you do any food prep this summer? I’d love any tips or tricks you can share!

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On To A New Adventure!

It is with mixed emotions and a heavy heart that I close the door to my classroom this week. I have decided to embark on a new adventure with a new school district. In the fall, I will be a Literacy Coach for another suburban, low income, small school district near Milwaukee. I will specialize in supporting teachers in closing the 5th to 6th grade reading gap. It sounds exciting and terrifying all at once! Am I ready for this? I’ve never been a coach before. I’ll soon find out!

To prepare for my new role as literacy coach, I will be reading the following resources this summer.

 

My main goal for the first few weeks is going to be watching, listening, and learning, as well as encouraging and supporting teachers. While I am extremely saddened to leave my school district ‘home’ of 10 years, I’m also very excited to meet new teachers and make new friends. I’ll also be shifting my perspective from working with 6-12th grade adolescents to now elementary students. It will definitely be an adventure!

Fluency Practice That Actually Works

This year, I administer a decoding intervention to students in Tier 2 & 3 reading interventions. We work on decoding, spelling, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. Our goal is to read more quickly and accurately over time (fluency). This is an essential prerequisite for comprehension, because students who struggle to read fluently often lack the cognitive resources to dedicate to comprehending, which is the ultimate goal of reading.

Every week, I administer the AIMSWeb R-CBM probe, a 60-second running record that records students’ CWPM (Correct Words Per Minute) and errors, to each of my students. The hope is that through our weekly word study, students will show evidence of their learning by being able to read more quickly and accurately. However, I’ve always felt I was doing a pretty inadequate job with improving my students’ fluency. We practice reading out loud in class every day, but our gains in fluency are slow and hard earned. Most of my students’ AIMSWeb graphs are nearly flat, like the picture shown below, meaning very little growth is evidenced.

And yet, I see their growth in so many other ways every day. I see it in their confidence, their decoding abilities, vocabulary knowledge, and spelling – none of which is measured by AIMSWeb. But the question remains – how can I improve their fluency so that it is reflected in their scores? 

I don’t know why I thought just reading more and more often would help my students. I had no systematic, direct approach; I just relied on sheer volume. We read interesting new texts every day and forged our way through the tough words together; and there was negligible improvement. I needed to find a way to speed up our progress.

I recently learned about a few fluency concepts that sounded really exciting and easy to incorporate into my curriculum, and I dove right in. Important concepts for improving fluency:

  1. Students need to read the same text multiple times (repeated oral readings)
  2. Students need to analyze and improve on their own miscues.
  3. Students need to understand why fluency is an important skill worth improving.

It seems simple enough, and yet why didn’t I think of it sooner?

I began by choosing very short, leveled passages for us to work on. I work with groups of 4 students, and this activity should only be done individually (you don’t want students to hear each other, which will impact their own readings).

Next, I created a worksheet that allowed students to see and improve on their own miscues, keep track of their progress, and set goals for future improvement.

Here is my copy of the worksheet, which I put in a sheet protector so I could write on it with dry erase marker for each student.

Each of my students got their own copy of the worksheet, which they used to track their progress.

As you can see, this student clearly progressed between her Cold Read and her Warm Read. In the first read, she made 4 errors. We took the time to go over them, decode the words, discuss their meaning if necessary (especially with ‘turnstile’), and then I gave her individual work time to practice or reflect. On her second, warm read, she made only 1 error AND read faster! *NOTE: she did not repeat any of her initial miscues! In the end, I asked her to note any words that she felt were tricky for her and worth future practice. She chose ‘amid,’ which we have now decoded and made into a flash card. All of this took about 5-6 minutes total.

EACH and EVERY one of my students today said they *liked* this activity, and they felt it really helped. They asked me to please keep doing it, and to pick another interesting passage for tomorrow. They eagerly took on the challenge, enjoyed competing with themselves, and were thrilled to see their own progress. Yes – ACTUAL noticeable progress. I’m so glad we are incorporating this into our daily word study routine!

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Spelling with Sand

Have you had an experience with multimodal writing/spelling? There are so many great ideas out there on Pinterest, from writing in shaving cream to making impressions in bags of paint. The beauty of this idea is that it is a) engaging for students b) gross motor skills (no worrying about holding a pencil) c) kinesthetic and multimodal (do, say, hear) d) easily replicated over and over until mastery e) memorable. Students can get in a lot of fun practice with language rules without the exhaustion and monotony of pencil/paper.

This practice is typically done in elementary schools, but I say NAY! Our middle school students deserve some fun as well! And since we were reading a book called The Cay in which (SPOILER) the 2 main characters are stranded on a deserted island and must write “HELP” in the sand to flag an airplane – well this gave me the idea that we could do our word work in the sand as well!

Our word study focus for this lesson was on the tch/ch rule. To begin with, we reviewed all of the short vowel sounds, making them in the sand and saying them repeatedly to brush up. A-apple, E-edge, I-itch, O-octopus, U-up.

After this practice, we learned the tch/ch rule – that the final ‘tch’ sound only occurs after a short vowel. We practiced with the word ‘batch’ – do you hear a short vowel? Yes I hear a-apple. That means that the /ch/ sound must be made by a -tch at the end.

We continued with several other words for practice:

  • lunch
  • teach
  • fetch
  • match
  • screech
  • itch
  • notch
  • splotch
  • snitch
  • notch

I didn’t so much care if they correctly spelled ‘teach’ with an ea and ‘screech’ with an ee, just that they recognized that the ending needed to be ‘ch’ instead of ‘tch.’

As you might expect, playing in the sand was a huge motivator, and at times distracting. In between words, I asked students to put their hands in the air. Once they were done spelling a word, I held up the cue card for them to cross check their spelling.

Overall, this lesson was a big hit. It was on theme, engaging, and appropriate for our word study sequence. The next lesson will be similar, on the ‘dge/ge’ ending (‘dge’ only occurs after a short vowel).

Would you try sand spelling with middle or high school students?

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I’m a Newsela Certified Educator

Did you know that Newsela offers professional development opportunities? A plethora of useful tutorials can be accessed through their PD Resources page. I recently completed the training and assessments required to become a Newsela Certified Educator – oh yeah! If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, here is their run-down. The benefits include:

  • A certificate for completion of 5 hours of professional development and training.
  • An official certification badge to share on professional platforms.
  • The ability to represent Newsela at conferences, training sessions, and lesson plan collaboration.

The 5 hour time estimate is actually pretty accurate, because even though I breezed through the tutorials and quizzes, I spent a long time on the final assessment. The final step is to create a lesson plan that incorporates Newsela PRO features such as a text set, annotations, etc. I am pretty proud of the product I created! Just for fun, I am going to link it below. You know what a fan I am of the novel Spite Fences, so I created this lesson plan as an introductory activity about barriers in society for the novel unit.


Lesson: Barriers in our Society

Teachers: Mrs. Dembroski

Subject: Humanities (ELA and SS)

Grade: 8

Featured Newsela Article: Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math

Essential Question: What are the ‘fences’ or barriers in our society, and how can we begin to overcome them?

Objectives

  • Students will understand that there are invisible barriers in our society that influence our lives.
  • Students will be able to read for a purpose and highlight evidence.
  • Students will be able to make connections between text selections.
  • Students will be able to cite evidence to support their inferences about a text.    

Standards

  • RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events.
  • W.8.2.B Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Assessment – Create a concept web of the barriers in our society and evidence of those barriers as discussed and cited from the Newsela text set articles.

  • 3 (Meets) – Student has included at least 4 accurate barriers in society and appropriate textual evidence that connects to and supports the barriers.
  • 2 (Progressing) – Student has included at least 4 accurate barriers in society and has included some textual evidence that connects to the barriers.
  • 1 (Limited) – Student has not included a minimum of 4 accurate barriers in society and/or the textual evidence is missing or does not support the barriers.

Outline / Schedule

Day 1 – Novel book walk, introduce “barriers” activity, and model with first article in small and

           whole group

Day 2 – Individual work – students read, annotate, and respond to prompts for 3 articles in the

           text set

Day 3 – Discussion, begin concept web, adding evidence from articles.  

Day 4 – Complete concept web, adding evidence. Submit for assessment grade.

Text Set: Barriers in Society / “Spite Fences – Trudy Krisher

  1. Growing up multiracial in Seattle
  2. Inventors and Scientists: Neil deGrasse Tyson
  3. Giving kids with special needs a sporting chance to form friendships
  4. Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math
  5. With a new arm, a young war victim finds her artistic talent
  6. Defense chief tanks military’s last barrier to women in combat
  7. For these police in Kansas City, child hunger is Public Enemy Number 1
  8. Working-class neighborhood feels division of Olympics
  9. Polarity is no shield against school bullies
  10. U.S. says transgender students get to use restrooms they choose
  11. What are civil rights?
  12. En pointe and on top of world: Ballerina, film star breaks color barrier
  13. Law states that California students must learn about LGBTQ history

Lesson Plan

Background – Before reading our novel “Spite Fences” by Trudy Krisher, we will do a book walk and discuss the front and back cover, especially the picture of a fence on the front. We will discuss how a fence is a symbol for division. Fences are physical things in our world that divide us, but there are also ‘invisible’ fences that create barriers in our world, influencing how we behave, what we do, and who we (think we can) become.

Learning Goal – The goal of our Newsela experience is to gain some background knowledge on some of the barriers that exist in our society today. Our essential question is, “What are the ‘fences’ or barriers in our society, and how can we begin to overcome them?”

Activities

  1. We will begin by reading one article together as a model: Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math. Students will be seated in groups of 3-4, and will be instructed to read the article out loud to their small group.

Annotation instructions:  

Highlight in blue evidence that indicates what problems toymakers noticed and tried to solve by reinventing their dolls.

Discussion Afterward, they will discuss the following 2 prompts:

  1. What problem are toymakers trying to solve by reinventing dolls and changing their appearances?
  2. What barrier(s) in society does this article show you?
  3. How does this barrier affect what people think they can do and/or who they think they can become?

Then, we will come together as a class and discuss our responses. I will model and guide students in understanding that gender expectations are a major barrier in our society, and they can impact what careers or interests people choose.

  1. Next, students will be instructed to work individually and select 3 more articles from the text set. Each article will have the same 2 writing prompts, as indicated below.
  1. What barrier(s) in society does this article show you?
  2. How does this barrier affect what people think they can do and/or who they think they can become?

Annotation instructions: Highlight in blue any evidence you find of barriers in society mentioned in the article.

  1. Once students have completed their reading and writing prompts, we will come together as a class and make a giant web of all the barriers in society we have noticed through reading Newsela articles (gender, race, ability, identity, financial status, etc.). I will model and guide students in adding evidence from their Newsela articles to the web. Their individual webs will be turned in for an assessment grade. This activity will set us up for further discussion throughout our novel unit of how we can begin to address and break down those barriers.

Accommodations

Though this is an individual assignment, some students (emergent readers) will be encouraged to work in pairs. Others (emergent writers) will be offered the opportunity to verbally discuss their writing prompt responses with the teacher instead of typing them up. Finally, others will have assistance from a paraprofessional with all aspects of the task, and may work with the para in groups of 1 – 4.

Extensions

As an extension, I will encourage stronger readers to read more than 3 articles, and/or to find additional articles throughout Newsela that address the barriers in society. I’d also invite them to highlight in a second color (pink) how people have attempted to address these barriers.

Reflection

This assignment will help students in learning about barriers in society that may affect them or others in their lives. We all confront barriers at some point, but we don’t often think about the barriers that impact others. This activity will help students learn to think beyond themselves. It will also set us up for our novel unit and for exploring ways to overcome those barriers. We will return to the articles after we have finished the novel unit to make a new concept web of ideas, solutions, and inspiration for overcoming barriers in society. We will also brainstorm action steps we can begin in our own community for beginning to break down those barriers and make our world a more inclusive space. We will also connect this learning to the main characters in Spite Fences (Maggie Pugh, George Hardy, Zeke), who pushed against and fought to break down barriers in her own world.

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Dystopian Genre Literature Circles Reading / Writing Unit

Hello everyone! I’ve got a great new unit to share with you, posted on Teachers Pay Teachers. It is a Dystopian Fiction unit, which will fit into your curriculum nicely as Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. As a Literature Circle unit, everyone will begin by reading the same anchor / mentor text (I suggest “The Giver,”), then each student can select his/her own second novel from the selection provided. This self-directed unit was designed for my Gifted & Talented 7th graders, so I think this unit would be a great fit for grades 7+. The goal is to independently explore the Dystopian Science Fiction genre, then come together to discover and discuss the genre features.

This 5-6 week unit combines Reading and Writing Workshop into a Literature Circle Genre Study of Dystopian Fiction and hits on a wide array of reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards.

This unit has been classroom tested and student approved! My students really loved this unit, largely because dystopian / science fiction is of major interest to them, and because they got to pursue their own reading selection and reading style. This unit helped us to discover how literature can be used as a critique on society and a metaphor for our deepest fears and dreams.

Included:
* Detailed Lesson Plans
* Independent Reading Checkpoints
* Cooperative Genre Study Activity (Dystopian Fiction Formula)
* 2 Essay Options including:
* Model Essays
* Scaffolding
* Rubrics
* Optional / Alternative assignment: Book Trailer

Click here if you want to download the lesson plans for free as a product preview!

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A Valentine’s Tradition

Now that we’re a family of 3, I’m always thinking of fun new traditions to start and enjoy for decades to come. As I was passing through the dollar section of Target (aka a Mom’s Vacation), I came across these adorable felt envelopes. At a dollar a pop, I just had to snatch them up! They are very large and can fit quite a bit of goodies, including books. In the same section, there were also some felt hearts, which inspired me to personalize the envelopes (I created the felt letters myself). The extra one is for our puppies, Rocket and Ruffy, and yes they got some treats, too!

This was Elaine’s first Valentine’s day eating solids, but that didn’t mean I wanted her to have all of the traditional teeth-rotting sugary sweets of sticky candy and chocolate. I settled upon a book and some fun, special treats that we don’t get very often. She went straight for the Lucky Charms, and picked out all of the marshmallows (just like her mommy, sheesh!)

At 1.5 years old, I’m sure she was pretty confused by this new tradition. Nevertheless, she loved opening her envelope and getting presents, so that is a win! My sweet husband filled my envelope with various chocolates that he knows I love and a thoughtful card. I filled his with chocolate and beef jerky.

Can’t wait to bring out these envelopes again next year to continue our tradition!

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WSRA 2017

I picked up all these great new books at the WSRA exhibition center!

I had the privilege of attending the WSRA Wisconsin State Reading Association again this year. I wish each and every teacher could have this experience!

Keynote: From the Cocoon to the Butterfly: How Readers, Writers, and Good Citizens Are Made, Not Born

The convention began with an invigorating keynote address by none other than the famous children’s author Mem Fox. She honored us with a passionate and joyful reading of several of her children’s books, including Possum Magic, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Whoever You Are, Tough Boris, and Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. A common thread throughout her presentation was that children deserve to be read to (yes, all ages, even the bigs!), and they deserve to hear the glorious language of real writing. She is saddened to think that children believe basal readers are real books (no wonder they say they hate reading!). She called basal readers “loathsome rubbish” and “banal words dragging themselves in single file across an arid page.” HA! 

More important than selecting a book at a student’s current reading level is selecting a book at a student’s interest level. Mem encourages teachers to lift their students up by exposing them to beautiful language and books that have a ‘reward’ – students deserve literature that inspires them to laugh, cry, think, and wonder. “Great art communicates before it is understood” – T.S. Elliott.

She shared with us an interesting anecdote about a time she was working on publishing a book through Scholastic. Her language had read, “I adore you.” and the publisher asked her to change the word ‘adore’ to ‘love,’ which is more common and readily recognized by students. But what a mistake that would be! Give students new and beautiful words to consume. They may not understand them right away, but they can by the end of the book or through repeated exposure. And this is how students learn! We need to use language to give students wings.

Session 1: Dyslexia: Definition, the Research Base, Perspectives, and Points of Contention by Donna Scanlon

This session was very eye-opening, especially since my school is in its first year of recognizing and addressing the needs of students with dyslexia. We previously only offered comprehension intervention, and this past year we have adopted a program that we are using with small groups and 1-on-1.

Dr. Scanlon shared several interesting conclusions that she has drawn from her reading and research. Most eye-opening to me was that Scanlon would like to retire (or at least redefine) the term ‘dyslexia’ as a lack of response to intensified, appropriately targeted instruction. Let’s break that down. Within research, the terms ‘dyslexia’ and ‘reading disability’ are often used interchangeably. Research has projected that approximately 20% of the population has dyslexia, which has been traditionally defined as a phonological processing disorder. As we know, the purpose of reading intervention is to help these students improve their reading abilities and bring them up to grade level. Theoretically, intervention should be effective for the majority of this 20%. If a student is able to improve his/her reading abilities and function productively in the classroom, what is the purpose in labeling them as having dyslexia? We should reserve the term ‘dyslexia’ for the few students with reading difficulties who do not respond to effective reading intervention. Overusing the term ‘dyslexia’ is not only non-inclusive and may serve little purpose or benefit to the student, but it can destroy a student’s motivation and their willingness to do a task (reading) they are told is a challenge for them.

So let’s talk about effective reading interventions…
Scanlon had several important criticisms of the one-size-fits-all Orton Gillingham based reading interventions that are widely used by school districts to address the needs of students with significant reading difficulties. Many of these programs teach phonics and phonemic awareness in isolation. They prevent or discourage students from relying on contextual clues to decode words (a strategy that students with weak phonological processing skills often rely heavily upon), and yet this is an important strategy that students will need to use to be effective independent readers. There is also a lack of consistency across different teachers and different programs, and students may become turned upside down with different approaches and terms (ex: capital letters vs. upper case letters, naming conventions, or sequencing of sounds / skills).

Readers vary on a continuum of abilities and need different levels and types of support in becoming strong readers. What works for some doesn’t work for others. The traditional OG-based interventions are used as a one-size-fits-all approach, which can’t meet all the needs of all of our students. These methods can also be quite laborious and cumbersome, when we can simply teach students that there are – for example – 3 ‘a’ sounds (long, short, schwa), and if one doesn’t make sense, try one of the others! No need to overcomplicate things with so many rules and processes.

What Scanlon does recommend as effective is explicit instruction in phonological awareness coupled with reading strategies that help students to transfer these word attack skills to their reading in the classroom (she calls this method “Interactive Strategies Approach”). This method relies on the teacher’s knowledge and professional judgment to make thoughtful decisions about what students need. This method could include pre-teaching a word attack strategy that students will need in an upcoming independent read, so that he/she can immediately apply the target skill. It also involves explicit modeling and coaching as teachers guide students in working through difficult reading obstacles. Instruction should also focus on acquiring high frequency sight words and gaining automaticity in decoding. Overall, instruction must be responsive to student’s needs, and canned programs don’t cut it for everyone.

If you’re still reading (I know this part is detailed and dry), and you want to know something you can do right now to help every student in your class, Scanlon recommends hanging up this simple sign (but please note – letter reversals is not the defining characteristic of dyslexia, and many young students struggle with letter orientation).

Session 2: Dishing Up Dialogue: Discussion-Based Strategies for Student-Centered Learning by Suzanne Porath

I chose this session because I want to learn more about supporting my students in becoming stronger, more critical thinkers. I know that can’t happen readily in a lecture-based setting, and it’s so critically important that teachers allow students the time to process big ideas through collaborative discussion.

Porath began by defining dialogue as when people come together to construct meaning and seek to understand (not just respond to) one another. Dialogue requires follow-up. For many of us (adults AND students), dialogue has become about waiting for our turn to speak, and not taking the time to listen and understand – and that is a skill that we can model and help our students to acquire!

Do you use Lucy Calkin’s units in your classroom? If you do, you probably make the anchor charts for your classes. Consider – what if you actually invited students to help you make the anchor chart? What if you did the lesson backwards, and had the students deduce what it is you are highlighting in this lesson? That would certainly spur more discussion!

Porath also encourages you to really consider what you need students to write/record, and what you can simply have them discuss. That traditional assignment of reading a book, picking a character, and having them write up a personality trait with evidence – couldn’t we have more FUN by talking it out with a partner? And you know that traditional assignment where you read a book and have to answer a set of written discussion questions – couldn’t we invite the students to develop and answer their own discussion questions in small groups? All of this would help them to develop interpersonal, collaborative, and discussion-based skills of listening and responding thoughtfully.

To have an effective, productive, purposeful conversation, the following need to be in place:

  1. Build trust.
  2. Create a physical space that encourages interaction.
  3. Set expectations of respect.
  4. Model turn-taking
  5. Teach active listening strategies
  6. Provide scaffolding (sentence stems, anchor charts, templates, graphic organizers).

To model and practice these discussion skills, a fun idea could include listening and responding to a storybook read by a professional actor, presented on http://www.storylineonline.net/

And finally, discussion should have a purpose to move you forward as a person. It shouldn’t be a performance, but rather an experience. After a discussion, ask your students to reflect on whether the discussion changed them, challenged them, or confirmed their thinking (from Reading Nonfiction – Notice & Note Stances Signposts and Strategies).

Session 3: Sneaking in Social Studies: Fusing Social Studies and English Language Arts

I was very excited to attend this session, because next year our district is moving toward perosnalized learning and ‘blocks’ of classes to allow for more flexibility. An exciting organizational outcome of this will be combining English Language Arts and Social Studies into a “Humanities” block. Therefore, I wanted to learn as much about this concept as I could.

I had a few important takeaways from this session to share with my colleagues:

  1. Consider what we are already doing in ELA that is actually Social Studies based (ex: reading primary sources, engaging in debate, analyzing society and/or human environment interaction, etc.) – you are already heading in the right direction!
  2. Reorganize the curriculum around themes, not events
  3. Focus on essential questions (Wiggins & McTighe) to guide your curriculum
  4. Reconsider the materials you are already using, and consider making some swaps
  5. Adopt project-based learning strategies
  6. Sacrifice breadth for depth
  7. Delve into CER: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning
  8. Consider what you can afford to cut from your ELA and SS curriculum

A final takeaway that I treasure from this session is the concept that there is a wider spectrum than the traditional FACT vs OPINION dichotomy. Instead, consider

  • verifiable information (instead of facts. this information can be corroborated or proven true.)
  • inferences (instead of opinions. these are conclusions based on evidence and/or reasoning.)
  • judgments (are sensible conclusions or evaluations that are personal opinions.)
  • Example: My mom’s birthday is on Friday (verifiable information). She loved the cookies I made her last year (judgment). This year I’ll surprise her with dinner at 6pm, because she usually gets home from work at that time (inference).

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February Site Wide Sale!

Pssst…. did you know that TpT is having a site wide sale today and tomorrow (2/7 – 2/8)? Time to shop! I know I’ve had a few things on my wish list waiting for this sale!

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