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

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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.

Vote your Values

Today is Election Day in the United States. Please vote.

And when you vote, please consider your beliefs, your values. When I vote, I tend to think about the greater good. I think about the people who have not had the luck, the blessings that I have had. I consider the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor, the impoverished. Who would create conditions and policies that would favor them?

I also think about welcoming the stranger, the migrant, and the children. Which candidate will create conditions at home and abroad where all feel welcome and safe? No one wants to be forced to leave home, but sometimes it is necessary for reasons of health and safety. Who will be welcoming while helping to create a world where migrating is a choice, not a matter of life or death?

I think about education. When quality education is available for all, possibilities emerge, futures are possible. Education never stops; we never stop learning. Which candidate will create conditions so that life-long learners have the opportunity to think critically? I want people to think deeply and from various perspectives. I want people to see the world in shades of grey while avoiding dualistic thinking. We weave the tapestry of the world with many colored threads. That beauty is diminished with either/or thinking.

I think about the future. When we care for the world, the air, the water, we will preserve the world for future generations. No one wants to breathe dirty air nor drink contaminated water. Which candidate will promote healthy development so that the future is better for all? We know that some resources are non renewable. How are we preparing now for a future without those resources? Which candidates will help us create a better world for the future?

The world I long for, I try to help create everyday, sometimes with more success than others. In addition to the above, I think about rights and responsibilities, the dignity of work, health care, peace, and solidarity with the most vulnerable. My vote can help create that world. I will do my part.

Please do your part and vote your values, hopefully for an inclusive world built on solidarity, love, and hope for all.

Six Months in Quarantine

The COVID-19 quarantine began here in Lima, Peru six months ago, on March 15, 2020. While the restrictions are in a constant ebb and flow, one thing remains clear: The danger is real. Recent data for Peru tell us that almost 750,000 people have tested positive and more than 30,000 have died because of COVID-19. Of course the burden falls heaviest on the impoverished.

Teaching for me is still online. I still don’t like it much when I compare it to teaching in person, but I consider myself extremely lucky that I can work from home and my students can learn from home. In the process, I am learning much about online education and video creation. (I love the creative part of all of this! One of my videos has over 1,400 views!)

What will the future bring? In reality, no one knows. There will be more deaths and more people infected. Eventually a vaccine will prove safe and effective. Eventually more activities will return to nearer-to-normal with increased capacity in restaurants; international flights are scheduled to resume in mid-October.

Is normal, though, what we want? How can we take what we have learned about family time, a slower pace, and cleaner air into the future with us? I hope that we can hang onto the positive changes that this tragedy has brought.

Viktor Frankl reminds us that meaning can be found through love, work and suffering. If we cannot avoid the suffering, perhaps we can find meaning in it, if we are open to doing so. This pandemic has caused much suffering. I truly hope that we can find meaning in the suffering and make improvements in our lives and in the world. May the new normal be better than the old normal. It is up to us.

Harvest Unknown

Bowl of BlueberriesIn Peru it is National Teacher’s Day–Happy Teacher’s Day to all of the teachers out there.

For most teachers, I believe, teaching is a vocation.  (Yes, vocation, not vacation.)  I am sure there are some who teach so they can have summers off, or because they don’t know what else to do.  The majority, though, teach because it is part of who they are.  They love building the relationships with the students, building the enthusiasm in class, and building the knowledge/skills/wisdom of their students.  It is our way of making the world a better place.

Does it work?  I like to think so.  One of the challenges of teaching is that you never really finish.  An architect opens the building, a baker tastes the bread, a programmer runs the code.  A teacher is never done; this year’s students move on, and the next year comes with new students.  Occasionally we get a glimpse of our work when we see a former student on TV or in the paper (hopefully for something good).  Occasionally, we receive a letter from a former student saying hi or saying thank you.  Usually, we never know.

I was reminded of this recently when I received this picture of blueberries.  About eight years ago my wife and I planted some blueberry bushes in the backyard at our house in Minnesota.  These bushes take a while to grow and produce fruit.  About five years ago we sold our house to a friend when we moved to Lima, having not tasted the berries.  Today, that friend sent this picture and said there are more blueberries that she will soon harvest.  That is wonderful!  Who knew?

I knew when she wrote and sent the picture.  If you are looking for something nice to do, try writing a note to that former teacher.  Let him or her know that you are well, that you remember, that you are thankful.  Your former teacher would love to hear from you, especially on this National Teacher’s Day, even if you are not in Peru.

Day 100

Ver imagen en TwitterToday marks day 100 that Peru has been in quarantine.  In that time there have been more than 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 8,000 deaths.  Peru even made it to #6 in the world of confirmed cases.

This is nothing to celebrate.

Through their actions, though, Peruvian president Martin Vizcarra, and his cabinet have probably saved many lives.  For that, we can be thankful.  The decisions by the leaders haven’t been perfect, nor have the actions of many citizens as they evaded or disregarded the precautions.  In general, things could be much worse.  The struggle continues.

As we mark day 100, my school year is ending.  In 25 years of teaching, this is the first time I have been at one school for four consecutive years–actually 4 1/2 years.  (I was in the St. Paul district longer, but at many different schools.)  Ending a virtual semester brings the joy of accomplishment and the sadness of goodbye in an odd fashion: we’re not together in person.  I miss being with my students and colleagues.  Most of them I will see when we begin again, again virtually.  Stay tuned to see when the quarantine ends and we go back to the brick and mortar.

A fond farewell to those who are leaving.  I will be here.  Online.  Stay in touch.

Perhaps

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 1.57.22 PMAs winter approaches, and the temperature slowly declines here in Lima, Peru, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has risen to more than 4,700.  At the same time, some of the restrictions are easing for the public.  A couple of weeks ago, children were permitted to start going on walks close to their homes with an adult.  As of last Wednesday, adults are allowed to go for a walk or run.  Requirements: three kilometers maximum distance, wearing a mask, five meters from other walkers/runners, one adult leaving home at a time.  Restaurants have begun delivering food and some business are back at work.  Such is the ebb and flow of this pandemic.

When I went for a walk on Thursday (at less than two kilometers, it was the longest walk I have taken since March 15), I snapped a picture of the butterfly in a nearby garden.  Beautiful.

Of course not all is beautiful.  Not here, as I mentioned, and not in Minnesota.  In Minnesota the protests continue following the murder of George Floyd.  I completely support the protests that challenge structural racism and racist violence.  While I never condone violence, my experience and learning across countries and cultures help me understand from where the violence may come.  How many quiet protests have you heard about?  There are few example to point towards.

If the arc of the moral universe truly bends towards justice, we are headed for a better society.  There is much work, though, before we get there.  Perhaps, like the butterfly in the picture, we can go through change and emerge renewed, more loving, more just.  Perhaps.

I Will Stay Home

For the babies and the children
For the parents, and siblings, and aunts, and uncles

For the hospital workers
For the recently operated and the soon-to-be operated
For the at-risk with health concerns we cannot see

For the farmers and drivers and supermarket workers
For the families of the farmers and drivers and supermarket workers

For those who can’t work
For those who are still able to work
For those who have to work

For the grandparents who bring joy and tell stories
For the grandparents who support the children and the grandchildren
For the grandparents who carry the collective memories
And for everyone else

I will stay home

This is not about me and what I want
(I want to go out too)
My parents and grandparents and teachers taught me the dangers of being selfish

Together in community we all do better
It matters

I will stay home
You?