Friday, 28 December 2012

Writing with Sentence Frames from a (Great) Blogger

Wow. I found a super-great resource for you this morning that I wanted to share right away!

Arlene Sandberg shares "best practices, ideas, strategies, information, and FREEBIES to help teachers make a difference for elementary students, low performing students, and ESL students" at It's Elementary. With 33 years of teaching experience, she has so much for us! I'm now following the blog and I recommend that you do the same.

Arlene's newest post is Using Sentence Frames to Help Struggling Writers Make Sentences, but I think every primary teacher could make great use of her free packet Writing Sentences with Sentence Frames, which includes a whole group activity, two Writing and Illustrating Sentences with Sentence Frames Activities, and a Writing Sentences Assessment. She even walks you through the process of using it, a valuable tutorial!

The preview above links to the packet at Arlene's Teachers Pay Teachers store, LMN Tree, where you'll find more of her creations, with none costing more than $7.50! 

I downloaded it to share with the teachers where I'm working as an academic specialist, and I'm letting Arlene know how much I appreciate her generosity in sharing her expertise. I hope you will, too.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Teaching by Questioning for the Common Core

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Socrates (470-399 B.C.) 
I like this quote attributed to Socrates, whether he said it or not - and I agree that the brains of our students are not empty vessels that we teachers are to fill from our vast store of knowledge.

From most accounts, Socrates did believe in and practice questioning as a means of teaching and learning. While students may find it easier to be given facts that they can regurgitate on paper-and-pencil tests, Rebecca Alber, in her Edutopia article "When Teaching the Right Answers Is the Wrong Direction" says, "...students are all too often on a quest for the Correct Answers, which has little to do with critical-thinking development..." 

Critical thinking, citing evidence, rigor and relevance...if you, like most U.S. teachers, are implementing the Common Core State Standards, you must incorporate skillful questioning in your teaching strategies.

Here's good information, paraphrased from the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Minnesota on How to Use the Socratic Method in the Classroom:

  • Plan significant questions that provide structure and direction to the lesson.
  • Phrase questions clearly.
  • Wait at least 5 to 10 seconds for students to respond.
  • Keep the discussion focused.
  • Stimulate the discussion with probing questions.
  • Periodically summarize what has been discussed, on board or projector.
  • Draw as many students as possible into the discussion.
Remind students that they are expected to do the following:

  • Participate when called upon.
  • Answer questions as carefully and clearly as possible.
  • Address the whole class so that everyone can hear their answers.
For more information, LEARN NC includes an article by Heather Coffey on the history and theory of the Socratic method of teaching, with directions for conducting Socratic circles and seminars.

Finally, for a no-holds-barred article on why questioning is the way to critical thinking and therefore understanding, read "The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking and Learning" from The Critical Thinking Community:
Questions of purpose force us to define our task. 
Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.
Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information. 
Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted. 
Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going. 
Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.
Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question. 
Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. 
Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific. 
Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions. 
Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 7

Like me, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack are Tennessee-born-and-bred. This teacher and civil engineer started writing because of their concern about the lack of stories written for African American children; since 1984, they've published a number of books set in the segregated South where we grew up. 

An author study on this writing couple would provide cross-curricular opportunities for learning about the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws, and Black Americans who have made great contributions to our society and culture. Researching primary sources and reading their biographies would offer opportunities for close reading of (and writing about) informational text, a major tenet of the CCSS: "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text."

Their picture books are wonderful; one of my favorites is Goin' Someplace Special, written by Patricia and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
The book is described by Barbara Bader in "For the McKissacks, Black Is Boundless," which appeared in The Horn Book Magazine in 2007: "Though she’ll be allowed into the downtown library, ’Tricia Ann has to ride in the back of the bus, finds that the bench in the nearby park is for 'Whites Only,' and has a real scare when she innocently follows a white crowd into an off-limits hotel."
You and your students will enjoy seeing and hearing Patricia and Fredrick McKissack talk about their work in this Reading Rockets video interview:

Kemp Elementary School in Cobb County, GA chose Goin' Someplace Special as its book of the month in February 2005, and provides reading and writing strategies and a connecting activity to Rosa Parks. In January 2010, the K-2 Exquisite Prompt on the Reading Rockets website was based on Goin' Someplace Special.

You can teach SO much, including vocabulary, visualization, making inferences, time line activities, mapping, US history, and cultural understanding using this beautiful book. Share it with your kiddos and let its important themes help cure your Common Core blues!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Building Academic Vocabulary

I just might have mentioned before that I love Ireland's NBSS site. There are actually many reasons to love it, but as a teacher, I especially love two things. One is the organization's understanding that academics and behavior are tightly interwoven. The second is that it provides truly great teaching strategies; not only are students' needs considered, but teacher support is also a focus.

Today we'll look at their collection of Academic Vocabulary Building Activities & Strategies. Every teacher knows that a student must be able to understand and use the vocabulary of learning in order to succeed in any content area. Our students need a deep knowledge of these words in order to "access information about them from memory as they read" and we must explicitly teach both academic words and strategies for learning new ones that they encounter.

You will appreciate the explanation of Robert Marzano's six steps to effective vocabulary instruction, and the suggested methods of implementing each one: 

  • The teacher gives a friendly, informal description, explanation or example of the new vocabulary term.
  • Students give a description, explanation or example of the new term in his/her own words.
  • Students create a non linguistic representation of the word.
  • Students engage in activities to deepen their knowledge of the new word. 
  • Students discuss the new word with one another.
  • Students play games to reinforce and review new vocabulary. 
You'll love even more the thirty-three vocabulary Graphic Organizers provided for your students with so many different activities that they'll never get tired of them! Here's a sneak peek of some of my favorites:

NBSS provides links to six Useful Websites for Vocabulary Activities such as Visuwords and Triptico, that have fabulous vocabulary activities for your kiddos.


Last, but certainly not least, are Games for Learning. From Charades to Pictionary to Taboo to Wordo, you'll find instructions, templates, and links to sites that allow you to create your own puzzles tailored to your students' needs.

Convinced? I thought you would be. Enjoy this great resource and see how much difference it can make for your students' essential academic vocabularies!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Common Core Practice | Life on a Coastline

The focus of all three of this week's writing tasks at The Learning Network? Living on a coastline, and the impact it can have on the lives of its residents. One of the writing tasks is informative, one is narrative, and one argumentative, providing plenty of variety for your students, even though the locations have their similarities.

After reading "Hopes of Home Fade Among Japan's Displaced," students are asked to compare the March 2011 tsunami and the resulting Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown to a natural disaster with which they are familiar.
The writing task for "Salvaging at the Shore, or Just Remembering" is to "write a narrative that includes figurative language and sensory details, (describing) what 'home' means to you."

The final task, an argumentative one, asks students to examine an op-ed piece, "Good Neighbors, Bad Border," and write a paragraph arguing who should be given possession of Machias Island and North Rock, tiny islands in the Gulf of Maine, whose ownership has been in questions for 230 years.

As always, I ask that you post a comment to Sarah Gross, Jonathan Olsen, and their partners at The New York Times if you use one of their prompts, thanking them for sharing!