It's not a secret to anyone who knows me how much I love writing. If there was a guaranteed pay rate for being an aspiring writer, I'd be all over it. It's my favorite thing in the whole world to do.
Alas, it is also my least favorite thing to teach. Why would this be? Simply because it's so difficult to instill a love of writing in students and often they hate it. I don't know if students inherently dislike writing because of the standardized testing mandates that can suck the creativity out of writing or what.
I do know that no matter what, we can't allow our students to become writers who only write because they have to. We can't allow them to become "school-only" writers who write to a prompt but refuse to pick up a pencil or pen in their spare time because the thought of writing gives them a panic attack.
Recently I went to a writing conference with the wonderful Jeff Anderson. I met him years ago at the Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When I found out he was coming to our local ISD for a conference, I knew I had to sign up.
The topic was his new book 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (click on this link for a preview of the book from Stenhouse). Jeff is hilariously funny and has such a passion for writing that it becomes contagious to everyone around him...even adults who thought they weren't writers.
I will let you explore his book for yourself but did want to share two strategies that I brought back to school with me and tried. My students ate them up and it was so refreshing to have them begging me to let them keep writing!
Power writing has many incarnations but I think this one is my favorite. It's very simple and it becomes somewhat of a competition for the students. Not amongst each other but against themselves. It's sheer brilliance.
Students date their notebook page at the top. You can choose to give them two words to pick from or let them simply write. Set a timer for one minute and they write as much as they can, as fast as they can, as well as they can. This is especially important for those students who struggle to put anything on paper at all. If they don't know what to write, they can simply write "I don't know what to write" over and over again. Eventually they will tire of that and find something else to write about.
Once the timer goes off, the students draw a line and then count and write down how many words they wrote. Do this in three rounds. What happens is actually quite magical. Students will naturally try to "beat their score".
Here is a student's writing from today. You can see he wasn't being really neat but his word count was going up. I never saw this child so excited to write before!
After each round, students record their score and then you can tally scores together on a big class chart such as this.
You can see how our scores went up each round for the most part.
My kids were begging me to do another round. Generally you only do 3 as that's enough to get them excited and then you can move into other types of writing but I had to give in and let them do a 4th round because they were so excited about it. One student even said "Mrs. Wood, I never knew writing could be so fun!"
I think this one is actually my favorite strategy that I learned. We tried this one as well. The basic idea is to let students write about whatever they'd like. Choice is vital since so often they are told what to write about. They write for 5 minutes. Same rules apply as with Power Writing. They need to write as well as they can and write the whole time but the topic can be anything they choose.
Once the five minutes are up, they share with a partner for 7 minutes so about three and a half minutes each. Once they have shared their writing, they put the pen back to the paper for another 10 minutes.
We did this for the first time today and it was amazing to me how many of my students said they had a lot more to say after they had shared with their partner. I asked them why they thought this was and the general consensus was "because then I thought of more things to write since they asked me questions". Bingo!
Knowing that the Common Core focuses so much on specific types and styles of writing, I think it is still important to promote creativity in writing. Yes, we do need to ensure our students know and understand the types of writing they will be asked to do in middle and high school as well as college, but writing does not have to be drab and boring. Writing in these ways allows a smidgen of creativity to shine into your students' writing lives and hopefully will provide them with a path toward wanting to write more because they have finally found a way for writing to be fun.
This week's tech tip is a website called Education Portal, a site for online courses. This site offers college, high school and other course types (college placement exams, teacher certification exams, etc.) all for free to its users. Education Portal's courses work by first selecting one of the 192 classes they offer, study and learn at your own speed, create an account to keep track of your progress and pass a credit bearing exam that often transfers to other schools. According to Education Portal, they have a team of over 200 instructors that a passion for online instruction and empowering students.
I use Education Portal in my Psychology and US History classes because the 5-10 minute lessons help to backup my instruction. E-Portal's online courses are also useful for struggling learners or even for the gifted learners who are looking to go beyond what is covered in class. Some other ways that Education Portal can be used in the classroom are: homework (flipped classroom model), a textbook replacement, help with studying, and you can have people take the quiz first to see where students are at, then show video.
There is nothing better about being a blogger than discovering resources and websites that can help me as a teacher to better improve my teaching and learning alongside of my students.
If you are anything like me, when it comes time for a break from school, I don't want to just send my students home with nothing. I know most of them won't read a book without some extrinsic motivation so I'm always on the look out for websites, activities and more that I can grab in a pinch to help my students be successful, even if I have to push them a little to get there.
Recently I came across a website simply called Achieve the Core. You don't have to register to use this website and you can simply say who you are (teacher/coach), what you are looking for (math/ELA) and your grade level and it will pop up a wealth of information.
While some of it may not be anything you can immediately use in your classroom, there is a host of goodness there that will help you to tailor better, more rigorous lessons that align to Common Core but also meet developmentally appropriate guidelines.
My favorite part of the website is how it collects and lists information. For example, if I am searching for math professional development, there is an entire page dedicated to this (you can access it here). It lists courses I can partake it based upon what I want to get better at.
Of all of the resources I have found over the past few months, this one is probably my favorite because of its layout, ease of use and the vast array of information it offers.
I’ve just returned from the American Association of School Librarians Annual Conference in Hartford, Connecticut, and I’m absolutely bursting with new resources to share. Each year AASL curates a list of the best websites for teaching and learning, and this list is a treasure trove of EdTech possibilities. Here are three of my favorites from this year's list.
Back in May, I did a roundup of great sites to use to teach current events. Here’s another one to add to the list. Youngzine is a biweekly newsmagazine for kids. Most of the content is created by adults, but there’s also a section of kid-generated content, and readers are encouraged to contribute. Kids can also comment on articles. Youngzine would make a great addition to the elementary or middle school classroom.
Padlet is like a virtual bulletin board, and it was central to one of the sessions I attended at AASL. As the presenter was speaking, we could post questions or comments on Padlet, which updates live. Applications in the classroom are many. It’s a great way for students to collaborate in real time, post responses to a teacher’s question during a lesson, or work together on a project or assignment while in different locations.
Want to inspire your students to read more--and think critically about their reading? Sign them up as book reviewers for LitPick. It’s a book review site for young adult literature, written by young adults. After creating an account, kids can choose a book from their list to read and review. Ebooks will be emailed to students, and they can upload their thoughts. Kids who don’t want to review books can still join the site to get recommendations from their peers.
Make sure you check out the rest of the sites on the list. AASL always does a great job of finding relevant, helpful sites--but what else would you expect from a bunch of librarians?
This week’s tech tip is a service called Spreaker. This website and application in both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store allows people to “discover the upcoming talent in the biggest community of broadcasters, producers and musicians”. Simply put, Spreaker is a studio that allows students in my classes and myself as a teacher to create a personal radio show. With iPads or other similar devices in the classroom, this platform is a mobile studio that can even be submitted to iHeart Radio with an estimated audience of over 30 million users.
To get started with Spreaker, login with a Twitter, Google or create an account with an email account. Once users have setup their free accounts, the service will ask for preferences of what types of interests a user has and will seek to determine if any Facebook and Twitter friends are also using the service that users can also follow. To broadcast a show, there are two options; broadcast with Spreaker’s recording console or upload an audio file from your computer (mp3, mp4, 3gp, aac, amr, flac, ogg, ra, wma, asf files). In my classroom, we use the free account, in which your quality of streaming is at 128 kbit/sec giving a pleasant sounding radio along with unlimited bandwidth, listeners and there is a limit of 10 hours of audio storage and a live broadcast duration of 30 minutes. There are other levels of service up to an official station level, which can cost $119 a month or $1,199.00 a year saving two months of service where everything is unlimited.
I have found incredible student engagement in this service because it is something that they understand because this is how students today listen to music and get their information. Give this service a try today and have students create a mp3 file recording then those files can be uploaded to the class radio station and students can then listen to their work at anytime! Imagine a class radio station, where news, events and student audio reflections can be played anytime.