Archive of ‘Language Arts’ category

Newsela

Have you heard of Newsela? Maybe you already use it in your classroom, or maybe you’ve heard me discuss how I have used it with my intervention classes. Whether you’re brand new to it, or you’ve been using it for years, you might like to take a look at this comprehensive online tutorial I created called “Using Newsela Like a Pro.”

This tutorial will show you how to use Newsela to target reading strategies through text annotation, writing prompts, guided text reading, reading with a purpose, and text sets.

Newsela Thumbnail

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Lucy Calkins Teacher’s College Writing Workshop

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Well folks, I have officially been Lucy-Calk-i-fied. I am now a converted, true believer.

I spent my 2nd week of summer at a Writing Workshop retreat held in Verona, Wisconsin by Wisconsin Education Innovations. For 3 days, we learned about Mini-lessons, conferring with students, teaching points, positive language, student ownership, independence, assessment, and every single awesome thing you have every wanted for your students.

The best part is, nothing was incredibly new or earth-shattering. I didn’t hear a single buzz word or idea that I haven’t heard of (or even tried!) before. The Teacher’s College methods just happens to provide a very systematic scope and sequence, as well as a flexible structure to follow. Truly, they were all things I’ve already been doing in my classroom, but without consistency or structure.

I’ll never be a believer in canned programs, so I was glad to learn that this method has so much room for flexibility and personalization. When you say you are “doing Writing Workshop”, to me that means making a commitment to keep your teaching points brief and do-able (10 minutes or under), provide the students with most of the hour to work (40 minutes daily), to confer daily with students and give them immediate, positive, and doable feedback that they can work on right away, and to closely monitor student progress in order to personalize their education. I especially loved the positive language component of our workshop discussions.

Writing Workshop doesn’t mean everything is spelled out for us, and any monkey could teach this class. It will still take an incredibly amount of knowledge and teacher craft to design mini-lessons, choose reading materials for your particular students, know best literacy practices, guide students to become strong readers and writers, and pace your lessons appropriately.

The best analogy I can give you is that Writing Workshop provides you with the ‘kitchen’, but you need to know your patrons, choose the recipe, select the ingredients, and learn to wield the tools effectively.

By the end of the workshop, I left with an excitement to get back to the classroom and try this out. I’m perhaps most excited about the daily conferences with students. This is what was missing in my curriculum. Conferring with students will allow me to personalize their education and differentiate for individual strengths and needs.

I also left the conference with a huge wish list of books. I just can’t decide which ones to buy first!

My current wish list:

  1. Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core
  2. The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo 
  3. DIY Literacy Video Series by Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Roberts
  4. Falling In Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman & Kathleen Roberts
  5. Teaching Reading In Small Groups
  6. Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins
  7. Assessing Writers by Carl Anderson
  8. How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson
  9. Conferring with Readers by Jennifer Serravallo
  10. The Power of Grammar by Mary Ehrenworth
  11. Catching Up on Conventions by Chantal Francois and Elisa Zonn
  12. Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst 
  13. In The Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher 

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Argumentative Writing

Well, we are down to the last 9 days of school. I know, oh do I know, how tempting it is to fill in those last few weeks with ‘fluff’ and ‘fun stuff.’ But I was having none of that this year. I wanted to end the year strong. I noticed that we had not made time for argumentative writing this year, and I know how critically important that is in 8th grade (and… life), so I developed a 9-week quick tour of the argumentative genre. Believe it or not, I think my students appreciate this. I am not having the mutiny I expected, and everyone seems fairly engaged and productive :: knocks on wood::

Argumentative Writing Informational Posters

I began by presenting a menu of options to each of my 4 classes and allowing them to choose their top 2 or 3 topics. I do have one advanced English class, and I gave them the option of “genetically modified babies,” which I did not offer to my other classes. Here were their options:

  • Cell phones in school
  • Physical Education class in school
  • Death penalty
  • Junk food in school
  • Gun laws
  • Changing the legal driving age
  • Legally assisted suicide

I had all topics pre-approved by the principal, and I did a few quick searched on my own to determine if there was enough credible and student-friendly material available on the internet for them. As you can see from the picture above, the top picks in each class were legally assisted suicide and cell phones in school.

The first step was teaching my students what evidence is (FEAST-ExO) and how to appropriately perform a google search to get some background information on their topic. I gave each small group a post it and asked them to post 5 indisputable facts about their topic that they found in their research. Then, I had each small group generate sub-questions that they still wondered about their topic, divvy up the questions to group members, and perform further research to add to the posters. This gave us a good foundation of knowledge about the topic before proceeding.

Following the internet research, I had the class generate a list of stakeholders in the topics and then assign each student to a stakeholder position (e.g. doctor, parent). They then created a mini profile on their stakeholder including name, age, occupation, stakes, etc. Their favorite part was drawing their stakeholder’s likeness 🙂

Our next steps were to investigate and practice writing claims, which culminated with them writing a claim for their own stakeholder based on his/her most logical position on the topic. Over the weekend, they gathered evidence their stakeholder would use to construct their argument.

This week, they will be engaging in an online threaded discussion on Google Classroom, posing as their stakeholder and defending their claim with credible and logical evidence. The final activity will be a collaborative one – they will work together to generate a solution or compromise for their topic. They will have to submit a detailed explanation of the compromise, including pros and cons.

Does this seem like a lot for a 13 year old? Not my 7th graders 🙂 They are doing fantastically. For some of my struggling students, I did offer assistance such as printed research for them to highlight and use. In general, though, I’ve been mostly hands-off and allowing them to explore this genre as independently as possible. I’ll be sure to report back once we have finished the unit to let you know how it went!


Update 6/3/16

We have now finished our Online Threaded Discussions, which went very well (done on Google Classroom). Having them do much of the legwork up front, researching and familiarizing themselves with the topic and evidence, was the most useful strategy. They came prepared to discuss! Below are some snapshots of their online discussions.

Topic: Physician Assisted Suicide

Topic: Physician Assisted Suicide

Topic: Changing the Legal Driving Age

Topic: Changing the Legal Driving Age

Topic: Genetically Engineered Babies

Topic: Genetically Engineered Babies


If you are interested in learning more about the activities we are doing this week, here are links to the products that I have modified to create this mini-unit: Internet Research, Argument Unit, and Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook.

So how are you spending your last few weeks? I’d love to hear!

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Instagram Reading Bulletin Board

At the beginning of the semester, I decided that I needed a reading bulletin board to celebrate catching my students reading. I wanted to fill my room with positive images of students filling their hearts and their brains. The initial blank board looked like this:

Instagram Reading Bulletin Board (c) Kristen Dembroski

The hashtag at the top reads #wmsreads. Note: This was never posted on actual social media – this is for my classroom use only.

I added about 2 – 3 photos each week. The students REALLY looked forward to seeing their pictures appear on the wall! I began by catching candids, but after a while, students came up with their own ideas and asked to pose for pictures. By the end, students were taking their own pictures and submitting them to me for approval and printing.

All in all, it was a very fun activity, and it helped spread a positive message about reading being ‘cool’ 😉

Here is the final product. And wouldn’t you know, the very DAY that I finish the board, Instagram went and changed their logo on me? Oh well, I like this one and I will keep it up for a long time!

Instagram Reading Bulletin Board (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Manipulatives

challenge

I have a Teacher Challenge for you. Yes you! When is the last time you used manipulatives in your classroom? If you don’t teach elementary math or science, then you probably rarely use them. But the students LOVE them, and they increase their engagement, communication, and learning! That is why I am challenging you to find a way to use manipulatives in your next unit of learning.

A manipulative is a physical tool for teaching. They are things that we can physically touch, rearrange, alter, and, well… manipulate. Manipulatives can include blocks, money, puzzles, or any tool that you give your student to use to explore a concept or skill.

I love using manipulatives because the students love DOING. They are engaging with learning through listening, speaking, and movement all at once. Students can explore tough concepts and find new ways to express their learning besides traditional reading and writing. This is a great way to differentiate for various student populations as well.

Language Arts Manipulatives (c) Kristen Dembroski

Let me share some examples of how i used manipulatives recently in my 7th grade Language Arts classroom. During a novel unit on The Giver by Lois Lowry, I wanted my students to practice vocabulary words as well as demonstrate their reading comprehension in some non-traditional ways.

Character Ranking Manipulative

This activity is designed to (formatively) assess Reading Comprehension and engage students in a deeper discussion of the novel. I had my students get in partners and cut out tiles with all of the main characters’ names on them. Then, I gave them various tasks for reordering the character tiles based on their knowledge of the character. For example, I had them rank/rearrange based on the following traits:

  1. youngest to oldest
  2. least to most authority
  3. least to most likable
  4. unintelligent to intelligent
  5. ignorant to wise
  6. shy to outgoing
  7. deceptive to honest
  8. happiest to saddest

I wasn’t looking for any one right answer (except for #1!), but rather wanted to encourage my students to discuss, challenge one another, and delve deeper into their understanding of the characters and their roles in the novel. I’m always shocked at the wonderful ideas and interpretations they share with the class. It also provided a great opportunity for teaching various concepts such as authority, wisdom, ignorance, and deception.

Triangle Puzzle

We did a fair amount of vocabulary instruction in class, so this activity was simply for reviewing. I created a blank pyramid (you can buy one here in my TpT store if you’d like), and filled it in with the words/definitions we have been studying. Then, in partners, I had my students cut them apart, mix them up, and attempt to recreate the pyramid. We did this for several days, attempting to get faster each day. They started requesting this activity because they enjoyed it so much!

A few tips on using manipulatives:

  • I keep a bucket of scissors in my classroom for this purpose
  • You only really need one set per class, but you can also have one set per student so they can take it home and practice on their own
  • Save all your business envelopes from the spam you get in your mail. They are FREE and great for storing your manipulatives!

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Read Across America Day 2016

Tomorrow is Dr. Seuss’s birthday AND Read Across America Day! We have big plans to celebrate in 7th grade.

Today, we read a biography about Dr. Seuss and answered some text-based questions. I purchased this activity from BusyBeeInGradeThre. I added an additional activity for my students – highlighting with a purpose. I gave them 3 different colored highlighters and 3 different reading purposes, and I asked them to highlight accordingly. This really made them think about their purpose, rather than just painting the entire page, which is NOT useful! (IF this is the kind of activity that interests you, here is another product that hits this goal)

Highlighting with a Purpose

Then, I made a Dr. Seuss themed bookmark for my students, which they cut out and colored. (Want your own? Download for free here: Dr. Seuss Bookmark).

Dr. Seuss Bookmark

Tomorrow will be a full Free Reading Day. We have checked out a big, plush room in the building (usually used for teacher meetings), and I invited students to bring in snacks, pillows, and blankets. We are just going to lounge around and read ALL HOUR! Yippeee!!

 

What are your big plans for Read Across America Day? Can’t wait!

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Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention 2016!

I was so fortunate to be allowed to spend a day at the 2016 WSRA convention this year. It was incredibly energizing and inspiring! I feel that every teacher should attempt to make it to a convention at least once a year to be reenergized and infused with exciting new ideas to try in the classroom. I got to meet several famous authors and researchers, and I felt like a total fangirl. I also came back with a plethora of ideas to share with my colleagues.

I’ll get straight to the point and share with you my top 5 take-aways from the day.

I need to buy these books ASAP

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Limit Teacher Talk to 1/3 of your instructional time

In an excellent session by Cris Tovani, she explained her Student Engagement Model and how she limits her Teacher Talk to only 1/3 of the time. The remaining time is students ‘doing’ – practicing, exploring, and producing. That’s difficult for the die-hard lecturers amongst us, but it is a necessary shift for so many critical reasons!

Breaking the Vocabulary Code

One of my favorite sessions by far was “Scaffolding Complex Text to Maximize Student Learning” by Mecca Sadler and Natalie Bourn. I got so many excellent ideas for incorporating more deep-thinking vocabulary activities into my lessons.

A few ideas I want to try immediately are the Vocabulary Triangle and the Image Explanation

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For the Vocabulary Triangle, you invite students to place a different vocabulary word they are working on at each of the triangle points (tell them to choose the hardest word, the easiest word, and a medium word). Then, on the connecting lines, they need to write a sentence that explains how the two words are related.

For the Image Explanation, you present students with an interesting image and ask them which of their vocabulary words it is related to.
THIS IMAGE REPRESENTS ____ BECAUSE _____
There is no one right answer, and you can discover evidence of their processing by listening to the connections they make. For example, let’s say my students are working on the following words:

  • transgression
  • excruciating
  • apprehensive
  • carnage
  • obsolete

And then I present them with this image:

Grey-Anatomy-Season-11-Premiere-Pictures

You can see how they could use nearly any of our vocabulary words to complete the idea “This image represents ____ because ____.” I can’t wait to try this idea out! The presenters said this activity would also make a great assessment tool as well. Real life application!

So long, Venn Diagrams

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From the same presentation by Sadler and Bourn, I learned about using a Y shape instead of a Venn Diagram for comparing and contrasting. The legs at the top can be for contrasting two items, and the stem at the bottom is for comparing what they have in common. The added bonus of this shape is it reminds us to ask, “why?” at the end. As in, why did the author(s) make the choices they made? I plan to use this idea next week to compare several dystopian fiction stories that my students read.

 

There you have my highlights of the convention! Not to mention seeing a lot of wonderful friends and colleagues. I look forward to the 2017 Convention!

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Todays Meet

Ah, the dreaded student presentations. Not for you, the teacher – You are so excited to see the fruition of students’ hard work. You can’t wait to see all of the wonderful ideas and revelations and evidence of learning. The students, on the other hand, are simply waiting to ‘get it over with.’ And when they are not presenting, they are sitting there, totally checked out, waiting for these hours, nay days, of presentations to just end already.

I know that many of you have excellent, tried-and-true methods for livening up presentations and engaging the audience: note-taking, exit slips, peer assessment, question response, etc. For this blog post, I’d just like to share one new tool with you – Today’s Meet.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 1.39.55 PM

Todays Meet is incredibly easy to use. I can even set up a ‘chat room’ on the fly, right there in class. I simply tell my students the web address / url, and when they arrive there, they log in with an appropriate nickname (First Name + Last Initial, for instance).

During student presentations, I require every student to post one thought, either a:

  1. Question
  2. Thought
  3. Suggestion

I like to have Todays Meet up and running on the projector screen behind the presenters, so we can all see what is going on. However, if this is not possible, I can also have it running on my laptop to the side. At the end of the presentation, the presenters can check the Todays Meet feed and choose 1 or 2 posts to respond to for the class. For more advanced or practiced students, one member of a presenting team could be fielding important questions on Todays Meet during the presentation as well.

Benefits:

  1. Students have a directed purpose for listening
  2. Students are engaged in the presentation
  3. Students can record their questions or thoughts as soon as they think of them
  4. Students can engage in a back-and-forth discussion in the chat room
  5. You can print out the transcript

Challenges:

  1. It requires modeling and instruction up front – be clear about expectations
  2. While students are typing their question or thought, they may miss a bit of the presentation
  3. You need to ‘Let Go!’ of your expectations of proper spelling and grammar

It’s another fun and efficient tool to use to keep the student audience engaged, to gather useful feedback for the presenters, and to keep students thinking about the content of the presentations. You may be pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful responses students pose to one another, showing yet another layer of learning!

I bet you can think of hundreds of ways to use this online tool to engage your students in deeper thinking and connecting. Book chats, anyone?

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Utopia

Utopia Diorama

Before starting our next novel unit on The Giver by Lois Lowry, my classes are investigating utopias to lay some groundwork for their thinking. First, I had them read about 3 real life utopias, including The Farm, Twin Oaks, and Acorn Community. They spent a class period reading and learning, then drawing conclusions about common features of successful utopias. Next, I had them think about what they would like to see in their very own utopia – what kinds of problems they would like to solve, and how they can build a successful, sustainable community.

For 3 days, they paired up and created their own personal utopias, complete with:

  • Values
  • Government
  • Education
  • Family
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Recreation
  • Technology

I let them create their utopia using any medium they wished (digital or physical), expressing themselves in any way they wished (verbally, in writing, in pictures, drawings, dioramas, etc.). They really enjoyed the freedom of choice and expression for this learning activity.

While they were working, I traveled around the room and did my best to listen and ask thoughtful questions. One group asked for my help when they became troubled about the idea of killing animals for meat, realizing it didn’t jive with their principles of non-violence and peace.  I encouraged them to do additional research and see if they couldn’t find a solution for humane ways to kill animals. After quite some time searching, they concluded that there were no humane ways to slaughter animals, so they rebuilt their utopia into a vegetarian paradise. Another group felt that they wanted shortened school days so that children had more time to explore the outdoors and begin career training. They decided to get rid of science classes, which they felt were redundant. I began to question their need for medical professionals, food safety, agricultural engineering, and on and on and on…. and they quickly realized that science was a very important class that they needed to add back into their education plan.

Most of all, I loved watching my students think through problems on their own. This activity encouraged them to do some deep thinking and reflecting on what really matters in our current society, why things might be the way they are, and dream about what they would like to see differently for a better future. They also had to compromise and build off their partner’s ideas.

After 3 days of researching, planning, and creating, it was time to present their utopias to the class. I had the pleasure of watching over 40 presentations, and I noted some very uplifting and hopeful trends across all of the utopias. Overall, these ideas were repeated over and over again in the students’ visions for a perfect world:

  • nonviolence, no weapons
  • renewable energy and solar power
  • respect for nature
  • democracy
  • equality and respect for diversity
  • community service (both mandated for all citizens, and as a first-strike punishment)

Other trends that I found interesting and thought-provoking were the ideas of: government provided housing (everyone rents, no one ever owns), shortened school days/hours so that students could pursue career-related activities, regulated working hours (everyone works the same amount of hours per week, regardless of profession), and more support for apprenticing and on-job training starting in high school (trade schools?). Some disappointing trends I heard repeated were the ideas that social studies is a pointless subject and waste of time (guess we need to do a better job emphasizing the importance of this subject, especially in our democratic society!) and exiling members who disobey (nope, we can’t do that, sorry guys!).

Overall, this was a very enlightening activity, both for me and for the students. I believe it will help them better understand the world that Lois Lowry has created in “The Giver,” and better understand some important themes such as Sameness throughout the book. It could also lay the groundwork for some very interesting conversations in Social Studies about the concepts of Socialism and Communism!

Utopia Diorama

 

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Instagram Reading Bulletin Board

 

Instagram Reading Bulletin Board (c) Kristen Dembroski

Hooray – I’m working on a fun new bulletin board in my classroom! This one is a take on Instagram, which is widely popular among my students. The board will feature pictures of my students engaging in fun reading and related activities all throughout the school. I’ll snap a few pictures during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), Library checkout (that shining smile when they check out a new book!) and other candid moments in the classroom. I think my students will really enjoy seeing themselves on the board. Overall, my intent is to highlight the positive reading culture in our school.

The hashtag at the top reads #wmsreads. This is for school use only – nothing will actually be posted on social media.

I’ve slowly been working on this a bit every day for the past month, and they are just SO curious to know what it is about! I told them to wait and see, but the day I put up the Instagram logo? They couldn’t stop talking about it! I can’t wait to see them checking the board each morning to see new pictures. Maybe they’ll be inspired to check out a new book, or ask a fellow student for a recommendation!

UPDATE 5-15-16: See the final product by clicking here!

 

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