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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Practicing What You Pin... Another Success Story!

About twenty times a day Every now and then, I stumble across a technique or strategy or product on Pinterest that I pin, but never try. I have about infinity of these pins scattered throughout my many Pinterest boards. Anyway, this year, I've vowed to change that! I'm determined to try out at least one pin per week, be it something for my classroom, or a recipe, craft idea, life hack...

So, here is one of my most favorite finds ever! I cannot even tell you how stoked I am to have tried out these little gems and what a huge impact they've made on my writing instruction.

These are Janet Malone's Transition Tickets and they are seriously the BOMB!! Watch her video about them here.


Basically, this product contains a ton of "tickets" that have transition words or phrases that students can use to write a paragraph. And these aren't just your usual line of transition suspects, like, "first," or "then," or "finally." These are great words and phrases that will instantly smarten up anything your students are writing.

So far I've had my students use these to:

  • answer constructed-response questions
  • summarize short stories or chapters of a novel
  • write opinion paragraphs
  • respond to a compare and contrast or argument prompt
What I love most about these is that they give a jumping off point for a writing piece that may be difficult or intimidating. This is HUGE for reluctant or struggling writers! Also, now that my students have been using these for a while, I am noticing more and more that they will use these stems when writing on their own, which is obviously the goal!

So, what do you think? Can you find a use for these Transition Tickets in your classroom? If you try them, let me know how it goes and how you used them.

Happy Teaching!!    

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Answering Literary Analysis Questions



When we made the shift to Common Core, one of the biggest changes to my daily ELA practice was moving from my traditional line of open-ended questions to more of a literary analysis question. This was a tough move for both me and my students because the questions were more complex, requiring a closer reading of the text and a deeper analysis of its elements and devices.  Overall, I think the change is for the best, but I won't lie... there have certainly been some bumps and bruises along the way!!

One strategy for answer these types of questions has been "S.P.I.T. Out a Great Answer!" I put this together over the summer and first posted about it here. Now that we are few months into the school year and have had some good practice with answering these types of questions, I want to share with you how it's been going.


So, as I've mentioned before, we use the Holt Literature series. I love this series... I really do. I didn't really love it at first, but now that I'm four years in, I'm super happy with it. First off, the literature is GREAT! Short stories, poems, literary nonfiction, articles, movies... it's got everything! Second, the more PARCC stuff gets released, like sample questions and rubrics, the more I am sure that Holt is doing a fantastic job covering Common Core and my students should be as prepared as can be expected when they take that standardized test for the first time this spring.

To teach elements and devices, I use an Interactive Notebook (read all about that here). With each element or device I teach, we read 4-6 texts where we practice analyzing that specific skill or device. Our analysis is done via our Literary Analysis questions.

And that is where S.P.I.T. comes in... Students can use this strategy to help them organize a better answer. Now, typically, I am not a huge fan of formulaic writing, but when teaching some of the heavier types of writing, much of which is new to my 6th graders (like literary analysis or argument writing) I find that exposing them to a formula allows EVERY kid an entry point.

Here is an example...

This shows a student's answer before I modeled S.P.I.T.







And this is the revised answer that came after teaching S.P.I.T.


Ahh! So much better, right?!

I'm loving how this has been working and I am thinking it's only going to get better!

Any strategies for Literary Analysis that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Revising 2.0! Teaching Kids to Revise Their Writing with iPads

I've been teaching math and ELA in various capacities for over ten years now. In that time, writing has come to be my most favorite subject to teach. It's certainly challenging, but so, so rewarding.

With our state's adoption of the Common Core, and our preparation for administering PARCC this spring, I've been in the process of changing up my writing lesson plans, which you can read about here. We just finished up a unit on comparing and contrasting and we've moved onto a Literary Analysis piece, where we are comparing and contrasting two versions of the same story.

This has definitely been a struggle for my 6th graders! Each of the skills necessary for completing a lit analysis - identifying the literary elements of two stories; analyzing each of these elements; comparing and contrasting the elements of each story with the other; forming an opinion about your analysis; supporting your opinion with evidence from the two stories; and then writing it all up in a clear, concise essay - are proving to be a challenge for even my most advanced students.

We've just moved on to the revising phase of our process. In the past, this has ALWAYS been a challenge for kids! Just getting them to go back and reread their writing is a fight, but when you want them to reread and then REWRITE what they have to make it better, FORGET IT! They fight me every step of the way.

I can't really blame them, though. When they've struggled so much just to get a draft down, the last thing they want to do is rewrite it. Especially when the directions for making for better are often so vague - things like, "Add more detail," or "Just say more about this," or "Pay attention to word choice."

In the past, I've tried a million different ways to get kids to reread and revise their work (peer conferencing, teacher conferencing, checklists... just to name a few!) and I've never really found a strategy that I've found super-effective... until now!

Enter the iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch or Flip Video recorder... anything that can easily record and be viewed).


What I've got my kids doing is recording someone (either a peer or teacher) reading their essay on video. Then, students can get a pair of headphones and watch again and again, making changes as they hear parts that need improvement.

The first few times I tried this was with my most struggling writers (and I recorded myself reading their work). They are always the first ones finished and also the ones that I can never get to reread their writing aloud, regardless of how many times I emphasize the importance of this (I tell them that their ears will "hear" a mistake before their eyes will "see" one). I could not believe how much pausing, erasing (or scribbling out), and writing I saw! They easily spent a good 15 minutes working (most only had about 10 sentences... remember, these are my most struggling writers!).

After they were finished, I recorded myself reading their essay again, and we compared what we heard. All of us (myself included) were so impressed with how much better their essays were! I'm talking serious, serious improvement! And what's best was that the kids were so proud of themselves because they could hear how much better their essays were becoming with some rewriting. Most had no problem going back and drafting for yet a third time.

I could not believe how well this worked! And I can't believe that I've had my iPads for two years now and I've never used them for this before. I'm sure I'm late to the party... many of you have probably been teaching revising like this for years! But, I'm so glad I tried this out because it has markedly changed the way I will teach writing in the future.

So, what part of the writing process presents the biggest struggle for you? How have you (tried to) overcome it?

Happy teaching!!