Oral Rehearsal for Writing

Do your students say what they want to write before they write it?  Whether it is a short exit ticket, the resolution of the conflict in a narrative, a lab report, or something else, there is a lot of power in oral rehearsal at every age. 

An easy way to do an oral rehearsal with your students is to do a think-pair-share.  You may have heard of this strategy where students take a moment to think about the answer to your question, and then turn to a partner who is near them to share the answer. To complete the cycle, have students write what they shared.

Another way to set up oral rehearsal is for students to have writing partners.  Before writing, partners can share what they will write about based on the instructions for the day.  After they write, they can share their writing and get some feedback from the partner.  I like to set up partners for the length of the unit so that students can build that friendship that good writing partners need.

Yes, all of this takes modeling and practice.

This week I did a small experiment with two of my students who are learning English.  I asked them first to write about a movie and I gave them five minutes to write.  Then, I had each one tell us about a book that they liked.  Here is a picture of their answers.  I added a word count to each text.Screen Shot 2021-08-25 at 3.39.47 PM

Screen Shot 2021-08-25 at 3.40.06 PM

Sure there is lots to work on with their English, but look at the difference in language production!  Oral rehearsal is definitely worth the effort.

Ask Some Questions…

…and then wait for the answers.

Screen Shot 2021-08-23 at 2.09.56 PMTeachers, at times, argue about silly things.  Years ago I walked into a classroom and into heated discussion that pitted Bloom’s Taxonomy against Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.  (Really, I did!) While there were teachers on either side of the discussion, they were all arguing for the same thing: Good Questions!  After listening for a while, our literacy coach wondered aloud, “How about using both to get the students think in lots of different ways about many different ideas?”

Screen Shot 2021-08-23 at 2.12.20 PMThat’s the ticket!  Let’s use the ideas of Bloom and Webb to motivate student thinking, speaking, and writing.  If you haven’t revisited Bloom and Webb in a while, now might be a good time to review the questions you ask, think about your wait time, and consider who does most of the talking in your class.  (Someone once told me that the person in class who is talking is the one who is doing the learning. It was probably that same literacy coach).

The resources (click on the pictures) are tools to get you thinking and to get your students thinking.  Have high expectations for your students and they will rise to the challenges that you scaffold for them.  All students can and do learn.  We can help them.

Learnings from Distance Learning

Beginnings and endings are wonderful times for reflection.  Maybe you are starting a new job, making a new friend, or celebrating the birth of a child.  Perhaps, on the other hand, you are leaving a country, ending a relationship, or mourning the death of a loved one.  All of these events invite pause, reflection.

How has the last year and a half been for you?  For many, including me, the arrival of COVID-19 brought change: Change in schedules, possibilities, health, and even brought death closer.  I have been teaching from home since March 2020.  Never in my life did I anticipate learning so much about distance learning, Zoom, and Google Docs.  But learn I did!

In the hope of holding on to the good, the silver lining in a difficult situation, I offer the following related to online, distance education:

  1. Relationships are still key.  Building and maintaining relationships continues to be the cornerstone of teaching.  When I know who you are and you know who I am, we can work so much better together.  I love seeing your cats and dogs, siblings and parents wander in and out of Zoom classes.  I love that you notice my haircut or new glasses.  I especially like it when, in the middle of class, you ask, “Can I show you a picture that I drew?”  Maybe the timing isn’t the best, but you feel comfortable and that is worth gold.
  2. Distance learning tools are only tools.  The real learning comes in the doing, the reflecting, and doing again.  We can use all the wonderful apps and programs, but without the purposeful lesson design that gets students doing the work and open to new ways of seeing and doing, the apps and programs are worthless.
  3. Today is enough. Maybe I had plans for more or different, but student questions and interest and worries led us on a useful tangent.  That’s OK.  That’s where we needed to go today.  When I am present to who you are today, right now, to what you need, right now, we will always move forward.  I am not going to assign you the work we missed; I am going to adjust my teaching for the new learning that we will do tomorrow.
  4. There is no learning loss.  Students always learn.  They may learn what we teach, and they always learn who we are.  There are all sorts of unplanned learnings that happen, too.  Always we start from where the students are and move forward.  If they missed something from a previous lesson or year we can sneak it in around the edges, in a small group or one-on-one.  Anyone who tells you that the students learned less this past year and a half is mistaken.  They learned a lot more, just maybe not what the curriculum guide says they “should” learn.  There is always a variety of student learning in a class; there is always a variety of levels of understanding in every class.  This year is no different.  We move forward because students always learn.

Take a moment and think about what you want to take with you from this challenging year (and a half!), and what you want to leave behind.  Move forward knowing that learning moves forward.  We continue to become.  So do our students.

A Year with COVID-19

On March 16, 2020 online, emergency teaching started at my school in Peru because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  As of right now, we are still teaching online and there is still a global COVID-19 pandemic.  Thankfully, we are no longer in emergency mode.

I call it online, emergency teaching because, well, it was online and it was an emergency.  There were no solid plans in place, no best practices, and we had never used Zoom.  All of that has changed.  We have solid plans, we have learned and honed our best practices, and we are practically experts in Zoom.  I never imagined that I would have a YouTube channel, and that my one Zoom video would have over 2,000 views!

We have been very lucky.  The school where I teach and the families I work with have the resources to make online school work.  Yes, the teachers have worked hard to get up to speed, and the families have been incredibly supportive in the process.  The students have rolled up their sleeves and rolled with the punches–huge learning curve, inconsistent technology, muted microphones, … Yes, the students, too, have been amazing.  I am so thankful for the students, the families, my colleagues, and the leadership at school.  Together we have made it work.  Together we continue to make it work.

After a year of this, what have we learned?  What have we reaffirmed?  I have learned that technology is an amazing tool (when it works!) and there are some amazing technological tools that we can use.  Some of my favorites are Quizlet, Kahoot!, EdPuzzle, FlipGrid, and Padlet.  Technology is still only a tool.  The foundation of all learning is relationships.  This is true online or in person.  When I know my students and they know me, we can learn from and teach each other.  

When I first started teaching reading I knew almost nothing about it.  (I had been teaching middle school social studies and Spanish.)  The literacy coach at my school said to me, “To begin with, just listen to students and watch them.  They will show you what they need.  The theories you can learn later; the students will show you now.”  Brilliant!   Relationships still prove to be key and the students are still teaching me.

I have also learned that less really is more.  Less content, taught more deeply, will actually be acquired by the students.  I will never “cover” the material; I will teach the students.

Finally, we live in partnership with the environment.  When we treat each other and the environment with respect, we all live better.  I think Paul Wellstone said something similar.

A year of challenge has much to teach us.  I hope we continue to learn its lessons.  Thank you to all of the students, parents, and colleagues for keeping on.

ABCs of Mindfulness

A few of my students struggle with self-control.  Their impulsive behavior leads them into difficulties that they blame on other students (and teachers). “The other kids don’t understand,” or “The teachers take it too seriously,” are common comments that admit no personal responsibility.  Indeed, there may be responsibility beyond the personal- other students may be baiting, trying to get a good reaction; perhaps there are structural issues  that would better support the students who are struggling.  Right now, though, I am going to try a quick ABC with them.

A- Awareness
Notice yourself.  What are you doing? feeling? thinking?  Don’t judge those actions, feelings and thoughts just notice them.  Can you name them?

Notice others.  What are they doing? feeling? thinking?  Can you name what is happening around you.  This is a great place to use those inferring skills.

B- Breathe
When you came to awareness, were you aware of your breathing?  Do that now.  Breathe in.  How long did you inhale?  Hold your breath for that same amount of time.  Exhale for that same amount of time.  If the first time you inhaled for a count of three, try for a count of four.  As you do this, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Be purposeful in your breathing.  Try this 5 times: inhale- hold- exhale.

C- Choose
Choose your actions.  Will you stay quiet or will you speak up?  Will you stay still or will you move.  We do not choose our feelings but we can usually choose how we express those feelings.  If you are happy at a stadium, you may stand up and cheer for your team.  If you are happy at a quiet church service you probably won’t stand up and cheer.  At this moment, is one way of acting better than another way?  Make your best choice for this moment.

Maybe this will help some of my students.  Maybe teaching them will make me better at doing the same.  I’ll keep you posted.

Mindfulness as a Way of Life… Not Only When Being Mindful

Are you one of the mindful people?  I am.  Well, I try to be.  I love the ideas of presence and breathing and noticing and all those mindful things.  I know the best relaxation techniques; I use them personally and with my students.  I take time to notice those around me and the sensations within me.  Breathe.  Be present.

But what about the rest of the day?  If we can take 10 minutes to be mindful on purpose that is good.  How, though, can we keep mindfulness going as a way of life?

To begin with let’s stop being busy.  Some folks wear busyness as a badge of honor.  They don’t have time and can’t make time.  They fill their schedules and their children’s schedules with so much to do that there is no time to be bored.  I loved being bored as a kid- that’s when I was at my most creative, much to the chagrin of my parents.  We dug holes and drilled holes and played Evel Kenievel.  “Go outside and play” was never a punishment but a liberation: discover, wonder, create, and sometimes get in trouble.  How often do you go out and play, whatever that means for you now, with no plan nor agenda?

Then, let’s be aware of our screens.  How many screens do you have that keep you busy?  Computer? Tablet? Phone? Kindle?  Which Joneses do you feel a need to keep up with?  The news?  A TV show?  Facebook? Instagram? Twitter?  How much time does that leave for friends and family face-to-face?  In my case, not enough.  So, I am mindful of my screen time and am trying to reduce it.  It is hard, though, when the emails come at all hours and a friend is posting photos on Instagram of his new house in a new country.  With email at work I try not to send email from home or on weekends.  I cannot be present nor help others be present when I interrupt them with things that can wait.  Perhaps we can agree to fewer emails after hours and more face-to-face during hours.

Finally, let’s focus. We  know that multi-tasking is a myth yet we still try to do too much (if you are always busy you might be trying to do too much).  A Jack of all trades is a master of none.   Businesses speak of core competencies: what are the main products and services of your business?  If you try to do too many things you may do none well.  The core competency of schools is education.  Is your school doing too many other activities?  How many of them can be done by parents and members of the community so that teachers can focus on the education of the students?  Bringing in the wider community brings people together and actually builds community because it does take a village.

Let’s be mindful of how we live life: We only get one chance at today.  Name your priorities and live them knowing it is okay to say no.  Build community and make time.  Me?  I’m gonna go out and play and breathe and notice.

Ask the Question

___Ask the
Question.  Not the
     I got you
Question nor the
     I’m smarter than you
Question.  Ask the
     Tell me who you are today?
Question.  Ask the
     What’s difficult?
     What’s the best, most interesting?
     What’s surprised you?
Question.  Ask the
     Tell me more about…
Question.  Not the judge, jury nor executioner
Question but the
___build community and understanding
Question.

Answers are not lions (but may be thorns).
Answers are doors.

___Share your
Answers.  Then ask another
Question.

Middle School Writing Lab

As we work to systematize the writing work we do in Middle School, we decided to start a new website: Middle School Writing Lab.  It will be a constant work in progress (and it was only started last Thursday so, keep that in mind).  I hope to include in each section:

  • How-To/ Explanation
  • Examples
  • Rubric
  • Word Bank

I am looking for that sweet spot between “formula” and “stream of consciousness.” I want writers to use their personal voice while accomplishing the task at hand.  If you have any amazing resources please send them my way.  Let’s Write!

Unfair to Learn?

Is it unfair to learn?

As I teach my classes, four sections of the same grade level content, I become a better teacher-  I notice the mistakes that the previous class made;  I understand their misunderstandings; I see the gaps in my teaching.  I learn.  That being said, class #4 receives all of my learning from the previous three classes and produces higher quality work.  They may even receive, on average, higher grades (I will check to see if this last item is true).

Is this unfair for class #1?  Is it unfair that the teaching they receive, because they receive it first, will always be a little less complete and polished?  Is this like asking if it is unfair for the first child in a family to have to train the parents?

Now, I return to weave the threads of learning for that first class, perhaps with colors not as bright but beautiful nonetheless.