Monday, December 31, 2012

Turning Criticisms to 'I" Comments

I am using Spandel's Creating Writers 6 Traits, Process, Workshop, and Literature 6th Edition in my upcoming online class: Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6th Traits.  This is a graduate course offered by the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Part of our time is spent assessing sample papers and writing feedback. I'll use this chart to emphasize the need to convert criticism to "I" comments.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tired of Being a Red Ink Slave to Corrections?

Editing, Not Correcting

How do you respond to the statement: Correcting isn't teaching!

Think about it: all correcting does is make you a better proofreader. Students more often than not ignore your hard work. You as a teacher feel obligated to take out the red pen, while in your heart you know this just isn't working. Don't you see the same errors over and over again? How many times can you check, highlight, underline and explain in the margins that a lot is two words? What else can you do? Isn't every English teacher obliged to correct the work of their students? Isn't that the expectation of parents and administration?

What if you shift the burden of correcting to the student where it belongs? You can do this by integrating editing skills into the writing process from day one. If you establish simple routines by editing every day you can chip a way at the persistent problems without bleeding red ink after school and every weekend.

Many teachers use a daily oral language approach. Let's make it a daily integrated editing exploration approach and stop correcting for our students!
  • Encourage students to re-read their work at every stage of the writing process.
  • Be sure students read their own work aloud.
  • Introduce and use the basic proofreading symbols
  • Start each class with a brief editing sponge or transitional activity.
  • Periodically assemble a list of Editing Essentials to tally the collective skills of the group
  • Collect and organize mentor sentences for modeling usage and grammar concepts
  • Throughout the year, have your students choose e-portfolio samples that document student progress

Edit Anonymous Authentic Samples

Practice editing skills with a variety of anonymous sample sentences or paragraphs in need of specific corrections. Toss the work sheets and find samples from the real world.
  • Use student papers that display the most persistent problems.
  • Find samples in online student publications like KMSoul .
  • Use the NWREL 6-Traits database of student work.
Better yet, use the Notable Sentences Blog a treasure chest of well organized examples. Self proclaimed "sentence stalker" Loren Wolter maintains this remarkable resource. Her blog is a collaboratively build collection of sample sentences organized to address editing essentials like grammar, syntax, figurative language and many other aspects of writing. These model sentences provide powerful teaching examples and pave the way for meaningful, traits inspired, writing process oriented grammar explorations.

Remember: It is far easier to work on a sample than to edit your own work. Provide process practice before you move to self-editing.

Fresh Eyes = Edit Better

When it does come time for your students to edit their important pieces, be sure the writing has time to cool.
  • Waiting a few days allows a writer to edit with fresh eyes.
  • Try reading the text backwards to discover invisible errors like repeated articles.
  • Zoom word processed text or switch to a larger font to see the words in a different way.

Focus on One Type of Error at a Time

Here's a professional proofreader's trick: focus on a single specific issue to keep things manageable. If you try to edit for capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar at the same time you overwhelm your weaker editors, causing them to shut down. For younger students, this may mean starting with just end punctuation or capitalization. For older students, the focus may be the rules of dialog or the use of quotation marks.

Integrate Editing into the Writing Process

Students who can revise and edit their own work are on the way to becoming independent writers. Editing helps writers understand their own voice. I'm not advocating a close spell check and punctuation drill early in the process. Too much focus on correctness can stunt fluency. Instead encourage re-reading and reading aloud as part of the writing/editing process. This habit will provide opportunities for students to experiment with usage as they go.

Model by Thinking Out Loud

Often we expect students to 'hear' or 'see' grammatical problems by applying a mental filter based on their previous exposure to language. Not all students have this filter. This is especially true for English language learners or students with learning disabilities. This is why it is so important to model the editing process using the think aloud method.

Put up an sample of your own weak first draft writing on an overhead projector or computer screen. Talk your way through a quick editing process. Broadcast your inner monologue as you tear into the typical problems you want to address. Modeling your own process shows students how important writing is to you and creates a safer learning atmosphere.

Where Will I Find the Time?

If you find yourself saying, I don't have time for one more thing in my curriculum, you'll love Jeff Anderson's insightful article Express Lane Editing Techniques. His field tested methods for modeling editing and re-reading throughout the writing process are practical and effective. Anderson suggests we approach grammar as.."something to be explored, not just corrected".

Anderson is also the author of the books: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. His books provide a road map for integrating powerful editing practices into the writing process. This isn't dry academic writing. Anderson comes from the classroom and has a voice and outlook are seasoned by the realities we all face everyday.
I started thinking of how we taught editing at our school. It looked like a series of half-baked attempts to solve a problem that we were not sure how to fix. If I asked my sixth-grade class to correct a sentence riddled with errors, did that show them editing is a powerful tool? When I looked at their faces, I had to admit the answer was a re-sounding, "No!"

Set Parent Expectations

Parents expect red ink. You will be pressured to teach the good old-fashioned way. Still, the good old-fashioned way (correcting) just doesn't work. A thoughtful letter home at the beginning of the year is a good idea. Explain your editing approach. Help parents understand that you value independent correctness. Be consistent and proactive. Periodically, send an editing paragraph home and ask parents to work together with their children on the edit. Consider inviting parents who are strong editors to work in your classroom, and train them to teach editing.

Reality Check on Editing

Finally, accept the fact that not everyone will be a strong editor. A writer with a talent for unique ideas and a powerful voice may be very weak in the conventions of writing. Consider Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows. Rawls was so ashamed of his spelling, punctuation, and grammar that he burned all his manuscripts and almost gave up writing. Yet who can deny the lyrical genius of his prose?

Writing is too often judged by correctness alone. Do good manners insure fine character? Does polished chrome and a fine paint job create a competitive race car? By balancing conventions (correctness) with the other traits of wiring; ideas, voice, organization, word choice, and sentence fluency, you help students find their strengths, while working on their weaknesses.
In the end, by teaching instead of correcting, you arm all of your students with some independent editing skills. You help them on the road to becoming independent writer.
You've done the job. Relax, take the weekend off!

Additional Editing Resources:

Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six Traits (UW-Stout Online Class)
Conventions Homepage (WritingFix)
6-Traits Resources Blog: Jeff Anderson The Write Guy (a guided tour of Anderson's online resources.)
Loren Wolter Notable Sentences...For Imitation and Creation

Resources from Jeff Anderson:

The Write Guy (Jeff Anderson's Website)
Mechanically Inclined (Google Book Preview)
Mechanically Inclined Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop
Making editing useful for young Adolescents
Grammar intertwined throughout the writing process: An "inch wide and a mile deep"
Zooming In and Zooming Out:Putting Grammar in Context into Context (PDF)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Primary Conventions:

In answer to the quesiton: Is correcting a student's conventions errors effective teaching? Primary teacher Mary had this to say:

I absolutely agree that correcting is not teaching. Before I began to learn about the 6 Traits, I didn't realize that one of the only things that I evaluated in a child's writing was conventions. When a student would come up to me with a writing piece, I would automatically correct their grammar and spelling.

Little did I know that I was turning them off writing. I was focusing on what was wrong and not celebrating what was right (like great voice!). I didn't know any better. It was no wonder I would hear the grumbles as I would ask them to take our their writing notebooks.

It actually was very difficult for me to NOT focus on conventions at first. I had to get used to asking a child if they could read me their piece so that I would not be tempted to correct their mistakes.

I think that having a student edit their own piece it is not as discouraging to a child. Now, I might ask if they could read their piece and show me where there might be a good place to add some punctuation rather than me marking all over their paper.

(For more on editing vs. correcting check out this online lecture.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

TED video Lesson: The Power of Simple Words

Long, fancy words designed to show off your intelligence and vocabulary are all very well, but they aren't always the best words. In this short, playful video Terin Izil explains why simple, punchy language is often the clearest way to convey a message. (Launching a series on Playing with Language

Monday, March 12, 2012

Primary Sentence Fluency & Reader's Theater

Class comments from Kathy:

I was excited to see the example in the book that described a good way to begin teaching varying sentences was to model. That is exactly what I did with my class last year when I dabbled in teaching sentence fluency. I wrote a story similar to the boring beach story in the book. Mine was about playing at the park. I started every sentence with we and the sentences were short and simple. Then next to it I had a story with descriptive words, varied sentence lengths and different words starting the sentences. I started by asking which one was more enjoyable to listen to. They were able to respond correctly and talk about what made it more interesting to listen to. We then focused on the poorly written park story and how we could rewrite it to make it have more sentence fluency. We never got past the modeling and shared writing portion of this because the school year ended. I am excited to try some more of the ideas in Spandels's book this year.

Three times a week we work on fluency in our reading. A lot of this is done with reader's theater. This is a great way for students to work on their fluency and expression. Tying some of these writing ideas to their reading fluency will truly help them make the connection between reading and writing. Might be fun to give them a reader's theater written simply with no sentence fluency. Then with their partners or groups, have them rewrite their parts with sentence fluency. Then they can present the revised reader's theater to the class.

I think I will bundle this trait with word choice. Part of what makes a sentence fluent is choosing the right words.

Internet Resources for Conducting Readers Theater
(From the International Reading Association.)

Reader’s Theater from the ProTeacher’s Archive
Lots of lesson plans and links to materials.

Reader’s Theater: Dr. Carl B. Smith, Professor Indiana University. A list of internet sites and formal citations about Reader’s theater.

Literacy Connections: Reader’s Theater
Nice selection of guides and books about RT!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

THE TYGER (from Songs Of Experience) By William Blake 1794

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tag Galaxy: Writing Prompts from a world of images

Tag Galaxy: Sea

This site asks you to enter a keyword and then assembles a planet of images using Flikr photos. I entered the word writing and then played with a threeD planet of pictures. Click on an image and it floats forward. This could be a great way to prompt journal writing or poetry. Fun to play with! Use it for some idea generation the next time around!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One Teacher's Reflective Journey

This end of course reflection was offered by a fine teacher who contributed greatly to the discussion in our class. I asked her permission to publish this piece. She kindly agreed. ~ Dennis

I became frustrated last year when my school system provided six hours of 6 Traits of Writing Professional Development and expected me to fully implement the traits into writing lessons.  As you might guess, it did not go well as I had hoped.  I started with unbridled enthusiasm and ended with complete listlessness.  Somehow in the back of my mind I new that if I wanted to learn how to “teach” the 6 Traits effectively I had a longer road ahead of me: The road is a story of my experience as both a learner (taking this course and seeking help from other educators) and also a teacher (sharing the knowledge that I gained).  The path that I followed is a path forged by readings, research, discussions, and practice.   I experienced a wide range of emotions throughout the course, and as I think back, I realize that as long as those feelings remain, writing (or any subject for that matter) will be an important part of me as both a learner and a teacher. 
That first week I can honestly say that I experienced fear, frustration, and accomplishment.  Fear...I hadn’t finished my school year, and yet I was tackling an online class when computers definitely were not a strength.  I was unable to log into the class for the first couple of days so when I was able to I felt as though I was behind the eight ball.  I had to learn the system in a crash course given by my daughter who just graduated high school, and I had to read umpteen posts.  Accomplishment... Within 24 hours of beginning this class I had communicated with people all over the world.  It was amazing that we had a common thread... Six Traits.  I enjoyed reading everyone’s post and knew that others had a lot to offer.  I looked forward to the upcoming weeks with excitement and still a bit of unsettledness.
By the second week insights began to surpass the anxiousness (Although I must admit that I began to have some feelings of self doubt and will discuss this a bit further in my reflections).  I began to like the online class format and felt bit less overwhelmed.  Already, I began to compile so many great ideas from all those who participated.  I love the websites which allowed for 6 Traits scoring practice.  I grew from having no skills to becoming somewhat adept at assessing the trait of the week.  It was this week when I recognized the importance of using 6 Trait terminology in the classroom.  I can’t expect my students to use the “lingo” if I don’t use words like “ideas”, “organization”, and “voice” daily.   It was this week when I also began to discover the connections between the traits. One of my biggest insights was the connection between fluency and voice.  When a reader is reading fluently he/she should be using tones and intonations which show the intended voice of the character or author, depending on the piece of writing.
Over the next couple of weeks I learned that the format for the class really was well suited for my learning.  I enjoyed doing the reading on my own and then listening to the same thing in lecture format.  This provided great background knowledge to stem a thought provoking discussion.  Unlike a live classroom, I was able to think and research before I wrote anything.  Sometimes the pace of a classroom is so quick that remarks are made without much thought.  I am thrilled with all the ideas that I will be able to bring into my classroom. 
As I reread my weekly reflections I noted how my feelings had changed on “free writing”.  I had seen other teachers use free writing but never really saw the benefit.  I do hope to implement it into my classroom this year.  Free writing helps to generate ideas and alleviate writers block.  A common thread throughout my reflections of the middle weeks was the importance of read alouds.  So many times this past year I said, “We don’t have time for a story today.”  I had forgotten that Read Alouds are much more than a story.  Read Alouds are an effective teaching tool.  I can use them to model effective writing: superb word choice, great titles, leads and conclusion, sentence fluency, etc.
All of this new knowledge did not come without a bit of self doubt.  I thought a lot about my current writing program and now perceived it as somewhat ineffective.  Of course I was having my students write; however I realized that they wrote with little instruction.  I was only using read alouds sporadically.  My modeling was limited, and my mini lessons were inconsistent and somewhat scattered.  Fortunately I found comfort in the words of a past science professor.  She believed, “Effective teaching does not come from complacency.  The best teachers are life long learners.”  This redirected me to why I chose this class...  I wanted to improve my writing curriculum.  I am a life long learner as well as a teacher and life long learning does not come without hard work.
         I have taken away so many wonderful ideas from this course.  I will implement some slowly over time; however, others will be a mainstay of my classroom from day one this fall.  Here are some crucial points which I learned. 
  • First, modeling and read alouds are imperative for student success in writing.  
  • Second, the Traits should be taught singularly but with the understanding that they are intertwined.  All opportunities to show case the traits must be seized.  
  • Third, peer work is important.  I learned from my peers just as my students can learn from each other.  “Ideas come from ideas.”  
  • Fourth, “conventions” is not the end all be all of writing.  Conventions has its place but is only one piece of the writing puzzle.  
  • Lastly, strong writing will be evident through year long teaching, assessing, and revising using the traits as a guide.  With this, the grades will come. 
            Some of the other ideas which I would like to try at some point during the year involve technology.    I never have been very confident using computers; however, I began to use computers in the classroom last year when my school bought a rolling cart of 30 laptops, and I had a lot of success.  This course allowed me to take the time to explore various new ideas such as voice threads, blogs, and other audio recording sites.  I am excited to introduce them to my colleagues and to try them with my students. 
            After reflecting on my own sense of confusion, frustration, wonder, and excitement as a student, I was reminded of a couple of important prior discoveries about teaching.   Enthusiasm is catchy.  When I am enthusiastic my students and the teachers who surround me will be enthusiastic.  After a day at the beach, the veteran teacher next door to me recently said that she was envious of my excitement to teach writing this year.  She is looking forward to sharing ideas so that she may renew her enthusiasm as well. I hope many of my students will join the bandwagon this fall. Also, it is important to realize that feelings of confusion and frustration are natural and often part of the learning curve, but feelings of satisfaction and success must be there to keep us on the correct path in the journey of learning.  We are all life long learners and so are our students. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Word Choice Classic: Bury Dead Words

A classic classroom word choice exercise is to 'bury dead words'.  I used to do this at Halloween, creating a tombstone bulletin board where we'd nail up all those useless, deflated, overused, words that make writing flat and colorless.

Here's a clever classroom rendition of the idea: RIP Overused Words

An Amazing Trickeration?: Banished Words For 2012. This short audio and written piece from NPR highlights an old tradition at Lake Superior University, an annual list of useless words (useless phrases would be more exact).  Lake Superior State University 2012 List of Banished Words.

Burying useless phrases feels like a great fit for any writing class room. Which words or phrases would you consign to the grave?