Saturday, December 29, 2007

And in conclusion....

As the year 2007 draws to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to post about writing conclusions. My guilty conscience is also leading me to do so, as I have been thinking about how to teach this element since being asked by a teacher for help earlier this month. (I haven't forgotten you Karen!)

As a teacher, I have always struggled with teaching conclusions to students. This is probably strongly linked to the fact that as a writer, I struggle with writing them!! I have always taught my students what they are NOT versus what they ARE and in retrospect, I wish that I had created samples of each for my students to use as models. For example:

Conclusions are NOT "beach trips"...

"Now that you have read about the causes of the American Revolution, I strongly suggest that you visit the city of Boston at some point in your life. When we went, it had great shopping and super restaurants. But be prepared to do a lot of walking (and I mean a lot!) by wearing your most comfortable sneakers!"

but they DO tie the essay together.

There were many reasons that the colonists decided to revolt against their mother country. Increased taxation to cover costs from a recent war, increased control by England over what could be manufactured/purchased in the colonies, and a sense that the colonists were not considered equal to British citizens all led to a new form of government and way of life in the newly formed United States."

While a list of this type might help students to see what conclusions should and should not look like, writing them can be another story. Teaching, modeling, and practicing writing conclusions often takes a back seat to time. Often, we are leave it out or assume that students can create conclusions once we have taught them introductions, transitions, details, etc. Three ideas to have students practice writing conclusions:

1. Provide students with a short 3-5 paragraph essay without a conclusion and have them draft a conclusion for the paper. Share the draft with a partner and then have them work together to write a third final version. Share with the class and vote on the most compelling conclusion.

2. Find great conclusions in stories/essays and share them with students. Ask them to identify the writing technique that makes the conclusion so powerful and create a class list of techniques. This also works well as a treasure hunt in your library if you are focusing on narrative writing.

3. From local state test anchor papers, cut out the conclusions of several papers. Giving students only the prompt - have them rank the conclusions from strong to weak and provide reasons. Rewrite one of the weaker conclusions to make it stronger.

I'm not sure these are the best ways to help students write better conclusions, and I certainly know that they are not necessarily the best ways, but it is a start!! I'd love to hear how others work with this tricky task!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Find Your Passion....Unleash Your Brillance

Here at the NSDC Conference, the learning opportunities can almost be overwhelming. I tend to overbook myself and then have to stop for a breather. But we had an interesting keynote this week the message won't leave my head.

Simon Bailey spoke to the group about releasing brillance through the power of imagination. We can't be limited anymore by what has always been done or the fact that no one has ever tried that before. If in business the most valuable resource is it's people - then in education, isn't it our kids?

And of course, in many of our sessions it is the "revised" Bloom's Taxonomy that is being used by presenters. In this one - the top level is CREATE!! Although I first read the new taxonomy and rationale two years ago, I have been hesitant to incorporate it into what I do - afraid, I suppose, that it was too unfamiliar to the teachers I work with. No longer! You can bet this is the version you will see!!

Kids as the most important thing. Create as the most important thing to do.

What does that have to do with writing? I came across this blog today - I am not going to say any more about it except that you have to read it. Don't say you are too busy or pass by clicking on this link: READ IT!!!

And then tell me why we can't get that kind of passionate writing within our (real or virual) classroom walls.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What was I hired for?

I am sitting at the NSDC conference in Dallas immersed in learning about learning with thousands of educators from across the world. It is an amazing conference to attend and the highlight of my professional learning each year.

Today, my focus is on Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. While I am familiar with most of the technology tools – it is interesting to view them through the organization of the nine strategies. It makes me think about how I can be more explicit in the organization that I use in my online work.

I was stopped short in my learning and compelled to write this blog entry at a comment made by the presenter. In discussing providing feedback to students, in particular around writing, he commented that as teachers we are not hired to be editors, we are hired to teach.

We are not hired to be editors, we are hired to teach.

I have been thinking a great deal about the activities I have been doing with teachers around examining student work. It is a natural progression after we have developed writing rubrics and determined the methods we will use to teach students to write. And I believe strongly that it is an integral piece of developing writing. However, as we look at the student work – I find that some teachers still make generalizations about the writing (“the good, the bad, the ugly”) instead of using the more discrete elements of the rubric to provide feedback (“that piece had great voice but was weak in organization”). And when the writing is “weak,” we give too much feedback. The student work swims in an ocean of red comments (or purple or orange) rather than providing explicit feedback and how the student can improve.

We are not hired to be editors, we are hired to teach.

We tend to be more comfortable marking up the papers (being the editor) rather than providing the feedback and mini-lessons that would help develop better writers (being the teacher.) Why is that?

Time? What better investment than to spend some time up front working with students on analyzing anonymous pieces, reflecting and getting feedback on their own writing, and revising with that feedback?

Too many kids? One of the best ways that students learn is from one another. Once we teach them how to give feedback using the rubric, we can focus on those who need some direct instruction rather than trying to get to all students in the course of one class.

Too hard? It is hard to plan for writing instruction. Each piece presents a different range of student abilities that we have to address and they generally are not things that we can anticipate. I still remember assuming that my students could write introduction and then being unpleasantly surprised to see my pet peeve intro (“In this essay I will tell you about…”) crop up all over the place –including on the papers of those writers I thought were “strong.” And I had little in my bag of tricks to help fix that problem.

So I had to start becoming a writer again – I had to write everything and think about how I thought about a lead or made transitions. I had to put my writing up for my kids to critique and give me feedback on. I had to write and read and write and read until I could also say that I was a writer to my students. It was hard…it was worth it…and I was a teacher, not an editor.