Wednesday, May 28, 2008

One more year down....

Two weeks ago, we held our last regional ELA forum for the year. These forums are a way for the teachers of our region to gather, share their best practices, ask each other lots of questions and hopefully build a network (community?) of fellow teachers. We have had some amazing teachers share what they do throughout the entire year - from reading and writing strategies to school-wide collaboration with artists in residence to differentiated reading instruction. Almost every one contributed to the conversations and the ideas - I know that I walk away each time having learned something new.

The group really drives the agenda and I am excited about the possibilities for next year. We'll continue our talks on summer reading lists and whether or not the students really read, we'll share strategies and speakers we have seen, and maybe, just maybe, we can move the community online to continue to share between face to face meetings (one of my ultimate goals!)

One really interesting example that was shared by one of our high school teachers extraordinaire was how she is plans to use Shelfari with her students. This teacher is one of the all too rare "I let them read what they want to read so that they learn to love reading" types of teachers. She engages her students regularly with different reading strategies, is reflective of her work and is always looking for new ways to engage her students. Since she wants to share what she reads and to track what her students read, she is thinking of using Shelfari to help them create these lists. Then, as the students move from one grade to the next, the teachers can see those and build upon the lists. In my ideal world - the librarian would hook in next and be able to make purchases for the school library that are relevant to the kids, based upon their recommendations!!

I use GoodReads myself - same type of concept but visually, Shelfari seems a bit more appealing. (You can see my bookshelf on the left - if you join, add me as a friend!)Whichever you choose - I think it is a great way to share reading in the classroom and one I am thinking about implementing with several groups this summer and next fall.

All teachers seem to be in continual planning phase and as we wrap up one school year and ready for the next - what are your plans for the fall and what are you reading/doing to prepare? Are you remembering to take some time for yourself and take a trip or visit local sites of interest? Share in the comments section and give me some good ideas!

Monday, May 19, 2008

What really matters?

I've been having some interesting conversations lately with teachers around the issue of editing and revising student work, often lumped in with conversations around grammar. The conversations usually start with strategies for working with students on editing or revising their work (harmless) to when and how to teach grammar (much less harmless).

Inevitably - we end up discussing cliff-hangers such as diagramming sentences ("they are really powerful for visual learners" I am told) to dangling participles (I kid you not - this one happened today!!) My personal opinion is that these lessons in the abstract (i.e. without reference to a specific piece of writing) do absolutely nothing to impact how I write. Unless there is something in MY writing that I can connect the lesson to and then use that lesson to revise, I lose the meaning/importance of lesson. Thus, I believe that grammar is best taught not in isolation but in mini-lessons and as they appear in student writing.

I think that this comes from the writer in me that values ideas over the correctness of the piece - at least initially. As someone who drafts and re-drafts their writing, at first blush I am more concerned with the ideas and how I have put them together than I am about the finer points of grammar, punctuation, and often word choice. I need to put the piece away or seek feedback on the ideas (revision) before I can turn my focus to the editing.

And this - I know - comes from those teachers in my past who, with the power of their red pen and marginalia, reduced my writing to a series of mistakes that I had made, rather than seeing the power of the words within. Feedback - both the focus and how it is delivered - can make or break any writer.

And so I ask you to please read this blog post about how feedback can extinguish a writer's flame and then decide what is really important when we read student writing.

Source Note: The diagram of the Pledge of Allegience at the top of the page comes from the Capital Community College Guide to Grammar and Writing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are there alternatives to a 5 paragraph essay?

I was fortunate enough to spend two days last week with Heidi Hayes Jacobs and some of our regional teachers investigating and thinking about "active literacy." One of the comments that Heidi made, among several, that really pushed some buttons in the group is to stop teaching the 5 paragraph essay.

She is right, I think - but that didn't make it any easier to hear. I am preparing for a workshop this week on Step Up to Writing and that structure is one that many teachers apply the color coding scheme to. In working in our region, I hear "5 paragraph essay" stated as if it were a genre. I suppose in many ways, and for many different reasons, it really has become one.

But one of the things that Heidi pushed people to think about with literacy is that people are not just literate in writing and reading. That listening and speaking are critical elements of literacy. And that new technologies open up yet another form of literacy that we need to address.

So it must have been fate that as I have been sitting on everything we discussed last week, my favorite Scottish blogger and someone who really pushes my thinking about literacy posted this on his blog:

How do you measure creativity. How can we work out the struggle of the 'exchange rate' of assessment. What is "the equivalent" of a 1500 word essay?

- an animation?
- running an online discussion for a week?
- scripting and posting a 3 minute podcast?
- authoring an explanation in Flash?
- annotating a week's worth of delicious links?

What are your suggestions of 'equivalence' in an ingenius, creative school system?

I am not going to answer with my thoughts in the hopes of prompting some thoughts around this. Tell me - what do you think?