Saturday, December 9, 2017

Low-prep ways to incorporate writing activities in a lesson

Low-prep writing activities

When was the last time you got to be the student and the teacher?

Recently, our teachers attended a workshop where they got to be the student and the teacher. In the 45-minute workshop, they did 5 different low-prep writing activities as a student. Afterward, they put on their "teacher hats" as we discussed the activities and how they could be used in their classrooms. 

When the "teachers" walked in the room, they became "students." The slide above was projected on the screen as they were entering and signing in.

After I gave instructions for the workshop, I projected the next slide which had the bellringer for the day.

I chose about 10 different words from that would apply to the different subject areas that are taught in our school and created a Word Wall. I asked the "students" to write sentences that included context clues, so that if someone read their sentences, they could figure out the definition of the vocabulary word by using the context clues. 

Teacher tip: Leave the word wall up during the unit or grading period. When you find that there is a word that students use often, remove it from the wall and replace it with a new word.

Teacher tip: While students are reading the next passage, read through the cards for sentences to share at the end of class if time allows. Use the cards to gauge understanding. If a student doesn't use context clues, return the card and ask him/her to re-do the sentence. ("The consequence for not doing the work is doing the work.")

When "students" turned in their index cards, they started reading a passage I had printed for them from After everyone started reading, I posted the next slide (above).

Then, as "students" started finishing the passage, I changed the slide to the one above. 

Teacher Tip: Direct students to read the screen as they finish reading the passage. 

Teacher Tip: Create a free account today for you to use with your students! 

After everyone finished their individual summaries, I asked them to work with the members of their groups to create ONE group summary of 25 words. Each group had a different method of deciding how to summarize the passage. Some started with the person's summary that was the shortest and reduced words from it. In some groups, each person read their summaries then they created a new summary from their ideas. 

Instructions for what to do after completing the new summary were posted on the screen (See slide above.) As a group finished, if they asked me what to do next, I would simply point to the screen. If a group member started walking towards the basket with only the group summary, I would look at the other group members who were seated and ask, "Is your group member forgetting something?"

Teacher tip: We need to teach students how to follow directions. Let the screen do the work for you. Let the group members help each other to follow directions carefully. 

The next activity involved close reading of the passage. will provide questions after each reading passage. I used the questions to help me craft short answer or multiple choice questions and I added the words, "Cite textual evidence for your answer." 

At the bottom of the handout, it read, "When you finish, turn in this paper to the basket and take out your Chromebook to complete today’s exit ticket."

Teacher Tip: Make sure students don't write, "Paragraph ___, Page ___" as their textual evidence. They should quote the sentence or phrase that makes the answer correct so that when they are studying they have all relevant information in one place.
The slide above was projected when all the groups were finished with summaries and started the individual activity of answering questions. 

The exit slip simply asked them to list 3 things they had learned that day. 

Teacher Tip: If there are a few minutes left after everyone completes the exit slip, project students' sentences from the bell ringer activity, but with the vocabulary word covered up. Ask students to complete the sentence and talk about why or why not the sentence used good context clues. 

Teacher Tip: Use the feedback in the exit tickets and the results from the questions about the reading passage to inform the next day's instruction. 

What do you think about these low-prep writing strategies? 

Which one could you use in your classroom tomorrow? 

I would love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Permission to disconnect

It's Sunday afternoon as I write this, and as I sit on my back porch watching the squirrels play and the leaves fall, I am in awe of the beauty in front of me. I celebrate the past week of visiting with family and friends and having my college-age daughters home for a bit. 

It's hard to believe that the week is almost over... feeling so long at times and so short at others. I feel the Sunday angst and excitement creeping in, knowing that tomorrow is back to the place where lives have an opportunity to be changed for the better. 

I'm so grateful for the students and staff at Hoover High School. They make me a better person and educator each and every day. Last Monday, I sent an email to the staff and shared a recent blog post from David Geurin. I also emailed to simply say THANK YOU. 

In one of the responses I received, a colleague sent me the following words:
I hope you intentionally step away from all things "technology" - unless of course you need to google a recipe or do some online shopping! 
Invest in your beautiful girls and your hubby...and Mom and Dad and extended fam!! 
You work hard balancing so deserve a little break! 
Thank you for being faithful to care deeply and encourage much!   
Blessings abundantly!
It was at that moment that I made the intentional decision to step away from social media for a good part of the week. While I love technology and being a connected educator, I am grateful for my colleague who sent me the email and encouraged me to unplug for the week. 

I can't say that I completely unplugged, and during the week I read an article by Mike Ushakov titled, The Right to Stay Offline. Needless to say, the title caught my attention and the article resonated with me. As I read it, I thought about others who seem to be constantly "connected" on social media. Perhaps they need permission, too. 

It's in today's quiet time of reflecting about the past week that I go back to something my mom taught me a long time ago. 

She said this to me when I got my first retail job in college, 

"The person in front of you is always more important than the person at the end of the phone line." 

That phrase has stuck with me all these years, and I have told it to my daughters, too. 

While my mom could have never predicted then what our world of communication would look like today with cell phones, texting apps, and social media, I think her lesson still applies. 

We must connect with those that are "live and in person" with us. 

This week, I've done just that, and I am grateful for both my friends online and my friends and family that are in front of me.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Are twitter chats 21st century PD?

When we get our teacher or administrative certification, it doesn't mean it's time to stop learning. In fact, for most educators it indicates that the learning has just begun. 

In a school - a teaching and learning organization - having educators who pursue learning is vital. When teachers and leaders actively seek out learning opportunities and apply what they learn about the most up-to-date strategies and information, the result is meaningful change and growth in the organization. 

Traditional, face-to-face professional development sessions can get a bad rap. 

To be honest, I've been to my share of sit-and-get PD that lacked creativity as well as any opportunity for participants to collaborate with each other. In fact, over my many years as an educator I'm sad to say I've attended PD/trainings where the speaker talked the entire time with little interaction with participants. Can you relate?

Because of these experiences, I have been very intentional in planning PD sessions at our school so that they are engaging, interactive, and informative. 

Here are a few examples of PD at our school:

Last week, many of our teachers attended a workshop I led during the school day (they attended during one of their off periods) where the focus was on writing as a literacy and learning strategy. Teachers wore their "student hats" for most of the period, then they put on their "teacher hats" as we debriefed after the lesson. 

By the end of the lesson, they had done 5 writing activities and collaborated with their tablemates. This was no "sit and get" session, and the next day, several teachers implemented strategies they had learned from the workshop.

Also, last week was my week to moderate the weekly twitter chat #ALedchat. (As a team of five people, we rotate the moderators so that each of us have the responsibility of deciding on the topic and crafting the questions only once every five weeks.) 

Twitter chats are interactive, engaging, learning opportunities for teachers and leaders. In one hour, many voices are heard. Opinions, ideas, and links to other research and information are often shared as well as practical ideas. When you're a practitioner, it's very valuable when you can read/see what other educators are doing in different schools. 

Participate does a great job curating the chats. (Click HERE to read the transcript of the recent chat, "All about assessments.") Since we have the ability to archive a chat, the chat becomes a "rewindable lesson" where questions and answers can be re-read and reflected on. 

So where am I going with all of this? 

Isn't it time teachers are rewarded with professional development credit when they participate in twitter chats? 

There are still many districts and schools (and leaders in them) who don't participate in twitter chats or even understand the learning opportunities that are available on twitter every. single. day. No... it's no "face to face" meeting with a neatly printed certificate at the end of the session, but I am a firm believer that sometimes much more professional learning is happening on twitter than in a PD room. 

What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave me a comment below or reach out to me on twitter.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Helping kids to be successful in the classroom

I had a great conversation the other day with another assistant principal at our school. We were talking about student performance, the impact of teachers on student outcomes, and how to tell if students are well-prepared in their classes. 

The other assistant principal and I discussed a lot of topics that day, and one topic we were discussing was vertical alignment in subject areas. We agreed that in a vertical alignment, teachers of later grades often know how well students are prepared in certain teachers' classrooms in earlier grades. I remember when I worked in another district, an English teacher of 11th graders told me that she could always tell which students had which teachers in 9th grade based on how well the students knew their grammar rules. They would tell me, "Certain teachers have a way of getting their students to learn grammar more effectively than other teachers." 

Because I am a former coach and tend to relate a lot of what happens at school to coaching, I relate the scenario above to varsity and junior varsity teams. The junior varsity is preparation for varsity competitions, just like 9th grade English class is preparation for 10th grade English class and so on. When I coached junior varsity volleyball, I knew that my girls were well prepared for varsity-level competition. We focused on strong fundamentals, but we still tried advanced plays at the net. Because my players were younger and not as experienced, they weren't as consistent at the junior varsity level as they would become at the varsity level after a couple of years experience at a higher level of competition. Even though I knew that their skills were not as developed at that point, there were still high expectations for the girls to learn what they would need to know and be able to do at the next level. 

What I demanded of my junior varsity players was what the other assistant principal, a former football coach, called "alignment and assignment." My girls knew where they were supposed to be during a play, and they were expected to be there. Every time. My girls may not have gotten the dig or a perfect pass, but they were expected to be in their correct position and working as a team. They may not have gotten the block, but they were where they were supposed to be and knew how to read their hitters. Those were the things that I could consistently demand from them in competition, because I knew that they had been prepared at practice to be in the right place at the right time. 

We also practiced technique and execution with precision, but in a game where adrenaline, nerves, youth, and emotions are factors, the execution wasn't always perfect. Those are the things that I knew I couldn't control as a coach. And things like test scores, graduation rates, and other outcomes are ones that we can't control as educators. But, like the teachers of 9th grade English at my previous school, we know that there ARE factors we can control that will greatly impact test scores, graduation rates, and other outcomes. 

How to create better "Alignment and Assignment"?

     -First, know exactly what the "Alignment and Assignment" is for each student. On a football team, different players have different roles based on abilities and strengths. The coach must be clear on what the alignment and assignment are for each player so that it can be taught, learned, looked for, and expected each day. 

     -Create situations where students can't opt-out. I love how Rick Wormeli always says, "The consequences for my students not doing the work is doing the work." 

     -Have high expectations for ALL students, even when those same students don't have high expectations for themselves. Hold students to those high standards.

     -Be consistent.... with classroom climate, enforcement of rules, showing respect, and expecting students to learn and work every day. 

     -Believe in yourself as an educator. You have the ability to make a difference.

I really like the image above from Duke Football. Their "5 keys to success" are Alignment, Assignment, Effort, Execution, and Finish. The last three keys are based on mindset, and in education we're more familiar with the terms grit, performance, and accomplish. 

I'd love to hear from you on ways to improve students' "alignment and assignment." Leave a comment below or reach out to me on twitter


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