Friday, July 30, 2010

Non-Fiction Mentor Texts

The Stenhouse Blog always provides some nice resources and lots of free online learning.  This recent tip on selecting non-fiction mentor texts is from Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, authors of the recent Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8.

I love the list of books they provide in this short post (I am already adding to my wishlists!) and the fact that some of them are picture books!!

You can read Chapter 1 of their book online in case you are interested in learning more!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

There's no writing in math class!!!

Oh yes there is!!

I would only do a disservice to Karl Fisch if I tried to summarize or in any other way tamper with his brilliant post on how he plans to integrate writing into his Algebra class.  Go read it now! (But please come back for a moment!)

One of the most powerful things about the post (and to be honest, most of his posts) is how transparent he is in his thinking.  He admits the roadblocks to implementing his plan, he lays out his plan with some links to his other work and references the work of others, and he acknowledges that he may not get to all parts of his plan.

But he uses his blog to publically announce his plan and ask for feedback.  That is one example of what blogging is all about!  Did you start your blog yet?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CLEAR the way to reading critically

Stumbled across this post from my Twitter friends about reading critically.  Roland Paris, a professor at the University of Ottawa, helps his students with an acronym for critically reading text in the course:

1.       Claims:  What are the main claims or arguments in the text?  What is the author’s main point?
2.      Logic:  How does the author reach these conclusions?  What are the steps in the author’s reasoning or logic?  Is this logic sound?
3.      Evidence:  What evidence does the author present to support the argument(s)?  Does the author offer enough evidence?  Is this evidence convincing?  Can you think of any counter-evidence that would challenge the author’s claims? 
4.      Assumptions:  Does the author rely on hidden assumptions?  If so, are these assumptions correct? 
5.      alternative arguments:  Can you think of alternative arguments that the author has not considered?
 It has me thinking about peer review (a topic of much discussion since I am at my annual Communities for Learning retreat!) and wondering if we might be able to use this for students to give each other some helpful feedback on expository writing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


"It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act. It starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more."

It's a powerful political poem but this stanza has me thinking about a lot of things.  Here - on this writing blog - my thoughts turn to writing.
I have always thought that we need to empower students to view themselves as writers.  To say "I am a writer" the same way I also expected them to say "I am a historian" in my social studies class.  School needs to be more than just going through the motions and getting something done - it needs to be about learning, growing, doing and sometimes not doing it well.  There needs to be forward movement.

At first, they resist.  No middle schools student wants to identify themselves as a writer.  Few elementary, high school, college, graduate school  or life students do either.  It is daunting.  It is public.  But it is doable.  Only if WE believe with certainty that is what we want for our students.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Taxonomy of Reflection

What I find incredibly interesting about writing is that if you want it to, it will never end.  At some point it should - it should be published so that you get feedback, so that you can say "I am a writer" and so that others can discover your voice.

When I say published I don't mean in a book necessarily, it could be a blog post or it could be read aloud or it could be share in a somewhat final format with another human being who helps you to make it better.  But even with all of those things, sometimes we just need to reflect upon our own writing and our process in order to be better writers.

That is where reflection comes it.  It isn't easy.  I have found that I often had to explicity teach how to reflect - to both kids and adults alike.  I really like this model from Peter Pappas:

How might you use this with your students?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ranting and Writing

Great post over at Two Writing Teachers on some powerful writing activities that she engaged in. (Yes. You must go there. Now. And read about them. Go - I'll wait!)

And I learned about "Rant Poetry" - something I had never heard of but apparently has a very long history!  Following the steps in that link - behold my rant poem:

"Write an essay" the teacher tells them
They should know how to do that
They are in high school for Pete's Sake
"Just write an essay"

But what is an "essay?"
How many paragraphs should it have?
What should it say? How should I say it?
"Just write an essay!!"

But no one ever really taught me how to write an essay
I mean I know how to write but I don't know how to
make my words come alive
convey all that I know
organzie my brain so it makes sense to yours
self-edit to catch my silly mistakes

Everyone says "Just write!"
But no one ever taught me to write!

Well that felt better - what would you like to rant about?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing and Wikis

I have spend the last two days at the NYSCATE Leadership Summit in Troy and been inspired by some of the great things folks are doing out there.  Two wikis really caught my eye and have me thinking about how I can support teachers and how teachers can support one another in writing.

First, Patrick Higgins shared the work his previous school district had done on creating a new middle level ELA class for all students to integrate technology into writing.  This wiki is an amazing example of collaboration as well as the type of lesson ideas that just might jump start some of you this summer!!

Then, George Engel shared a wiki that he created with his math students for them to reflect.  The use of videos and reflections here is incredible - but be sure to check out the discussion tabs for each student to see the peer review feedback.

It has me thinking about how I can model some of these elements in my workshops. I tend to create wiki or a Google Site for most things as a respository of resources but I think I need to make it more collaborative and more reflective.  More you - less of me!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Story Cubes

Love this idea and love it more now that it is an app!!

And then I started to think about the "low tech" way that we could re-create this using web images!!  What fun stories we could create!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Evolution of a Reader

"I envy the way my oldest son reads, stretched out on the living room couch, all of a sudden this year taking up most of three cushions. Watch his face: his lips move, his eyebrows raise and lower in drastic measures, he smiles, winces, gapes and falls still all in a mere breath.
He practices the clich̩ Рhe devours books. But, even better, the books devour him."

You'll devour this essay over at The Millions.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Readers of this blog know I love my Kindle.  But this might be one way to start to get e-books to students in a cost-effective manner!!

NOOKStudy is an application that will be available from Barnes & Noble in August - with access to over 500,000 free e-books!!

"Designed by students, for students" it seems that it will make a nice electronic backpack for students. I'll be interested to see how it actually works and how it might be used with secondary classrooms.  And I'll let you know!

Thursday, July 15, 2010



As a middle school teacher of social studies, it was something that I hoped to evoke in my students as we studied certain periods in US History as a way to have them  understand why it is important to learn about our past.

We read primary sources, viewed photographs, watched videos - all to help with the learning process.

I've also been doing some reserach on service learning and thinking about how to integrate it into our curriculum so that our students have an impact on our world - and help create as sustainable future.  Not entirely related to writing but I thought I would share this video!!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tag This! The Book Seer!

Via Free Technology for Teachers, I found The Book Seer - a book recommendation site.  You just need to type in the name of the book and the author of a favorite book and it will search both Amazon and LibraryThing for other books you might enjoy.

Below is the list of recommendations for Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (a fun ghost story!)

This would be fun for students to search for other books that might interest them based upon ones they already enjoy!!

Tag this!!

For a visual site that does the same type of thing-tag YourNextRead!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Literacy Through Art

I am facilitating a workshop for middle school teachers on vocabulary instruction today and thought I would share one of my favorite new resources!!

Literacy Head provides resources for using visual arts for teaching literacy.

If you scroll to the bottom of the page - you will see the visual dictionary.  For each of the week's vocabulary words, there are three images that illustrate the word and one that is the opposite.

The words come from the book of the week - which also uses images for pre-during-post reading activities.

Not only fabulous resource - I can see students doing something similar as a fantastic activity.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Life in A Day

July 24th.

Capture your life in film and submit.

Be a part of a global experiment.

Wouldn't it be fantastic to re-create this within your class or school?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Challenge Based Learning

Continuing on with the theme this week of 21st Century writing/literacy/teaching, I am intrigued by the idea of challenge based learning.  In a nutshell,

Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and
learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily
lives to solve real-world problems. Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and handson, asking students to work with peers, teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to ask good questions, develop deeper subject area knowledge,
accept and solve challenges, take action, and share their experience.
Part of a larger collaborative effort by Apple, the sample challenges described here seem to get at the heart of what we need in education: relevance, collaboration, communication. So - how do we start making learning more challenge based and less textbook based?