Category Archives: Writing
What a productive PD day! This year we have been focusing on improving our students’ writing and we had the entire day today to do moderated marking of writing that our students completed two weeks ago.
In the fall, it was decided that the type of writing we would focus on this year, would be procedural. This meant that at some point early in 2014, every student in the school would write a procedural piece which would be marked, and the feedback given immediately to the classroom teachers, to inform their instruction.
Once our students had completed their writing assessments (different grade levels decided on different prompts) we were given numeric codes to label our writing. These codes were provided by our resource department, the purpose being to keep the identity of the students unknown (as much as possible) during marking.
With the pieces of writing completed and labeled, it was time to choose exemplars to establish the expectations of our writing assessment at each grade level. What a huge task! You wouldn’t think choosing exemplars and providing justification for those choices would be so difficult, but it was! Teachers were were given sub time to meet with their grade level and choose those exemplars, using a common rubric based on our standards. We had resource people and a literacy coach at our disposal as well, which made things run quite smoothly. Even though it was a challenging day to choose those exemplars, it was time very well spent to go through all of those pieces and really work to compare them to the rubric. The conversation that we had to justify our choices is how I see true “professional development” – which you know I love!
So, all of that led up to today, which was our PD day to actually do a school wide moderated marking session of the writing assessments. We were paired up and together we worked to mark each of our pieces on the traits of content/ideas, organization and conventions. After we agreed on the three marks for the piece, we also had to give one strength and one “next step” for the student. Finally, each teacher was given back his/her marked writing assessments. What we’re able to do now, is to create class profiles based on the information that we’ve gathered. In my class, for instance, one “next step” that came up quite a few times was to work more on strong introductions and conclusions. As a homeroom teacher, that is powerful, practical and useful information.
Does your school do any sort of “school wide” assessments (reading, writing, math) which are created and marked by your staff? A math assessment is a future goal for us and I’d love to know if your school has any sort of “school wide” assessment (not talking about standardized assessments here, but rather teacher-created common assessments, to inform instruction).
Please share! I’d love to know what’s going on at other schools!
“I think I might actually read this book.” Music to my ears in class just the other day, while doing a simple activity on leads.
The basic idea of the activity is to show students how to take what they appreciate in a good lead -what grabs their attention and apply it to their own writing. Simple. However, I have found that this activity serves more purposes than just that!
Here’s how I like to do my “great leads” activity:
1) Have students make a chart in their LA scribblers with the following headings: Title, Lead and My Thoughts
2) Take your class to the library (I used my own class library this year)
3) Have students choose 5 books randomly from almost anywhere in the library (you may wish to focus just on fiction or non-fiction, and omit poetry)
4) Have students record the info under each heading for the books that they choose
It always amazes me how this simple activity engages even the reluctant readers in the room. I think it’s because the expectations are something that everyone can attain – they don’t have to READ the book, just copy that first sentence and decide if they like it or not – easy!
Although this is a lesson on “what makes a good lead” and how to apply those characteristics to their writing, something else happens during this time.
Kids are looking at books – all kinds of books. They may have expectations of the book and they may not. They may pick up books they’d like to read, books that they think they’d never read, books that look interesting or just plain weird.
What has happened with my students when I’ve done this activity over the last three years, is that it gets them excited about books! They love sharing the great leads that they find and tearing apart the ones that they don’t like. The discussion is awesome! I have found that everyone contributes to the sharing portion of this lesson, because they only have to read one sentence aloud to the class and most (if not all) are okay with that. They also find books that they realize they’d like to read (because they want to know where that amazing first sentence leads). That was an unexpected surprise the first time that I did this activity.
In addition, they hear leads from books that their classmates have found and it’s like it opens up a whole new world to them.
If you haven’t explored leads with your students – try this activity out! You need no prep, and I guarantee you that your students will gain a better grasp of how to hook a reader through their own writing, while getting hooked themselves!
Here’s a fun little freebie for your grade 5-7 Language Arts class -12 Point Of View cards with a Halloween theme. Students take a card and play out the scenario from the unique point of view. I’ve included a werewolf husband keeping his secret from his wife, a witch who is scared of heights, a pumpkin about to be carved – even a shiny red apple in a bowl of Halloween treats, just waiting to be chosen. It’s all in good fun and to spark some creativity in students’ writing. In the download there are also suggestions for a couple of different ways to use the cards and some simple extension ideas.
It takes no time to get into the swing of things, huh? I have only had two days with my new grade 7′s (and I’m aware that it’s still the honeymoon period) but they are simply a lovely bunch of kids and I’m really looking forward to my year with them! That being said, I found a cool new writing tool over the summer that I plan to try out with them and so I thought I’d also share it here. So, just to be clear it’s brand new to me and I haven’t used it with a class yet – but it looks REALLY cool!
The site is called “Figment” and it’s a site where your students can write, collaborate with each other and ultimately publish their finished pieces online for either the whole class or the entire Figment community to comment on and/or review.
Here’s how I plan to use Figment in my room – hopefully in first term!
One of the first major writing assignments that my students will have this year is to write a Memoir. My plan is to have them type these memoirs into the (simple) template on Figment – basically a word processor. Educators also have the option to “create groups” which means I’ll have all of my students in a private group. I hope that some initial sharing, giving of feedback, revisions and edits will occur in this group. When the pieces are ready, I plan for my students to publish to the Figment community! It’s very fulfilling when you become a “published author”. Using this site, all students will be able to label themselves in this way – which I love.
There is a special spot on Figment for educators to create those private groups, so if you’re interested, be sure to check it out. You have to send off an email request to have access to the private groups and so it’s not immediate. You kind of have to plan ahead, if you want to use this as an option. From what I can tell, though, I can start a thread in the group, asking students to work on a really strong lead today. Perhaps next class, I’ll ask students in a new thread to replace three of their verbs with more precise, active verbs. Students can also start threads, asking for advice and feedback. I’m very excited about this site and I think it has amazing potential.
I’ll be sure to post again after we actually get started with it, to let you know how it’s working in “real life” with real kids.
I also have my plan laid out for my students to blog again this year. I’m excited to begin that process with them this month and I already have two teachers (one in Pakistan and one in USA) who my class will be collaborating with – we’re going to be audiences for each other! Lots of plans! Don’t you love September? Everything seems possible and exciting. I have lots of energy and I just can’t wait to get started!
Side note: If you were interested in blogging with your students this year, I started a Google Doc a while back to help us find each other around the globe and to make collaboration a little bit more structured. Feel free to have a look and add your info if you’re interested and be sure to contact any teachers on the list who have a class that matches yours!
Please, share your goals for writing with your students this year! Cool sites, blog plans – I’d love to hear what you’ve got going on!
Thank you to all who hopped on over and followed our blogs and TPT Stores last weekend! Your participation in this little event was awesome! We do have a winner to announce
Teachingisagift McKay – your resources and Amazon gift code are on the way! Congratulations! Thanks to everyone who took the time to enter!
I want to mention one more thing this evening. My post just went live on Global Teacher Connect yesterday and it’s about student blogging. I’d really encourage you to have a peek if you are currently blogging with your students OR if it’s something that you’d be interested in trying next year. I have a Collaborative Project: Student Blogging Form that you can fill out with your info so that you are able to contact each other and pair yourselves up! So far, there are teachers from Morocco, US, Canada, Ecuador and Bermuda who would like to blog this year or next! How cool is that?
If you would like to be contacted next year for blogging – just add that as a note on the form. We already have two teachers who have posted their info, who would be interested in something for next school year.
I’ve just started blogging with my students in the last month or so and we’re about to collaborate with another school on the Island and one in Ontario, Canada. The kids are trying to “fix up” their blogs a bit more for their audience – which is what we want! We want them writing for a purpose, and with an audience in mind! Anyhow, I can see this evolving into something more for next year. Maybe even a “Blog-folio” type of idea. Regular blogging would be great, but also, having their best pieces of writing displayed for an audience would be so cool. It would also be neat to see their writing abilities progress through the year. Anyhow, I am quite excited about what we’ve done with the blogs so far, although we all still have much to learn!
Check out the post on GTC and even if you’d be interested in having your students READ the student blogs and comment on them – fill out the form! The wider the audience the better! Plus, I’d love for my students to get comments from kids all around the world. That would be a big part of my ultimate goal. (I’ll be working on this next year…so stay tuned if you’re at all interested…)
That’s it for this evening! Please leave a comment here or on the Global Teacher Connect post if you have any tips or questions for me about student blogging.
Welcome to Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog, my guest blogger for today. Thanks again for such an awesome idea, Kristy. Enjoy folks!
Need a strategy to improve student achievement? Have you tried Bump It Up Boards? They are a great visual way to help your students self monitor their achievement.
How To Get Started:
Choose a curriculum expectation or focus you see as a need in your classroom. I chose the 4 R’s [retell, relate, reflect, review] reading reflections strategy.
Collect many work samples of your focus. You can use previous student work, ask colleagues for their examples, create your own, use government standardized test exemplars or search the internet for examples.
Ensure your samples represent a range of student achievement levels – not just ones that meet or exceed expectations.
Students worked in groups to read the responses and “grade or mark” each response based on their previous knowledge of what makes a good Retell, Relate, Reflect and Review.
A student in each group was the recorder and wrote down all of their ideas on what made the each exemplar a Level 2, (C), Level 3 (B) or a Level 4 (A).
We had a class discussion and compared our answers to ensure consistency among our expectations for Level 2, 3 and 4 work.
Final Process to Create the Board:
Type up student thinking under the appropriate curriculum expectation categories – this will become your Success Criteria.
Type up the assignment expectations and format the graded work samples to fit on to the display board.
Colour code your examples by level and attach to a bulletin board or poster board. Have students reference this board while working on their assignments to self monitor their progress.
Products to Support Bump It Boards
I had an excellent Professional Development Day yesterday, on assessing writing. I’ve got so much work to do this weekend now! Don’t you just love it when that happens? You attend a PD session and by the time you get to the end, you have more questions than answers? Well, that’s the kind of afternoon that I had (in a good way).
We started off the session with reading a chapter from Assessing Writers, an excellent book from our Literacy Library by author Carl Anderson. Everything was made so simple in that first chapter- confer with your students, gather evidence on what individual students need in their writing and plan your writing lessons and mini-lessons accordingly. Sounds easy, right? In theory it is, and I’m planning on giving it a shot!
Toward the end of the session, I was able to score a few minutes alone with the Literacy coach to pick her brain about a few things that I’ve been concerned with in my classroom around our new ELA resources and how I’ve been using them. I feel (and have felt for a while) that I am not as focused in my Language Arts teaching as I would like to be. (My strength is Math – that’s no secret.) Therefore, I feel like I’m constantly trying to figure out the best way to teach reading and writing to my students. And, each year it’s like I start from scratch again, hoping to “figure it out” this year.
Our conversation turned toward another topic of concern for me as well - evaluation and marking. It’s not so much the gathering of information that I have the issue with. I know how my kids are doing and I assess them with rubrics, checklists, observational data, conferencing etc. However, the subjectivity and somewhat grey area that can creep into evaluating a piece of student writing, has given me a feeling of dissonance for a while now.
We operate on a 100 point scale in my province, and I truly feel as though I am working within a flawed system. Even when I use a rubric, mathematically the results don’t always convert to the percent that is most appropriate for the piece of work. On a four point rubric, if a student is meeting expectations across the board, he will receive a 75%. Did he deserve a 75%, though? Was his work a “strong three” and therefore more worthy of an 85%? Or perhaps, he met expectations, but just barely and since a pass is a 60%, he should receive a mark closer to 60%? Realistically, what’s the difference between an 87% and an 88%? I would love to give letter grades a try. Having a range of marks that is suitable for a piece seems so much more appropriate than the system that we’re currently using here.
Anyhow, we chatted for a while and it was so nice to get some of these things off of my chest and to come up with a plan of sorts for how to best work within the system. I’ve been teaching based on the themes and resources that we received 2 years ago when we got a new program. As the Literacy coach reminded me, they are the resources, not the curriculum (although of course they are based on the curriculum outcomes). She suggested that since I seem to be searching for a better way to organize my ELA program, that I do so by writing form, rather than theme. I’m willing to try anything and after talking to her, I’m quite excited to see what this may look like for the remainder of the school year.
The current book club writing focus is poetry, which works out perfectly, since we haven’t covered it much yet this year. This weekend, I’ll be looking at the other forms of writing that still need to be covered before the end of the school year and finding reading selections within our program resources that support/are examples of each writing form. That way, if we are doing Descriptive Report writing, for example, we’ll only be reading examples of descriptive reports so that we can really get a feel for how a report is written and the text features that authors may use such as captions, diagrams, headings etc. Even though this mid-year plan reorganization is going to take time and a lot of effort, I am SO okay with it if it means that I will be more focused in my teaching and my students in their learning. The thing is, I know without even beginning, that it will be! The Literacy coach also gave me some ideas for how to make my rubrics aimed more precisely at what I’ll be covering – so that’s great! Although she’s supposed to be just for the K-6 teachers, she has been wonderful to do her best to support me as well in our K-7 school.
As for my other issue, with the 100 point scale – I know that this is a shift that will have to come from above (or within). I am doubtful that things will ever change within my career – but who knows! Perhaps I’ll spearhead a crusade for letter grades and finally release us from the shackles of this ridiculous system of evaluating students once and for all!
How do you mark where you teach? Percents? Letter grades? What kind of assessment tools do you prefer?
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