Writing Pathways Professional Development

Writing Pathways Professional DevelopmentThis past Monday I facilitated an introduction to Writing Pathways professional development with two of my district’s Reading Specialists.

According to the official website:

Lucy Calkins’ groundbreaking performance assessments offer instructional tools to support continuous assessment, timely feedback, and clear goals tied to learning progressions that have been aligned with world-class standards…These assessment tools make progress in writing as transparent, concrete, and obtainable as possible and put ownership for this progress into the hands of learners, allowing students and teachers to work toward a very clear image of what good writing entails.

The six main components of Writing Pathways include: learning progressions, on-demand writing prompts, student checklists, rubrics, student writing samples, and annotated exemplar pieces of writing. (You can read more about these resources on the official website.)

The session lasted three hours and it involved the classroom teachers from all two elementary schools in my district.

Here is a brief outline of what took place. (Although this outline applies to a session on Writing Pathways, you will find several non-negotiables of professional development that can be applied to the learning of any topic. You can also read more about the non-negotiables here.):

  1. The teachers grouped by grade level to discuss and answer the following six questions on a Google Doc (Storytown is our current Language Arts series.):
    • Typically, what does your writing instruction look like?
    • How does writing fit within your Storytown rotation? (scheduling, how often, etc.)
    • What materials (e.g. Storytown, books, websites, etc.) are you using to support your writing instruction? What are the main components of Storytown on which you rely for instruction?
    • Overall, when it comes to writing instruction, what do you feel is working/not working for your students?
    • How could your writing instruction be better supported? (resources, guidance, professional development, etc.)
  2. A short discussion about the session’s essential question, “Why Writing Pathways?”
  3. A short discussion about the session’s four enduring understandings (more or less, the day’s takeaways):
    • “Where are we” with writing instruction?
    • Where do we “want to go” with writing instruction?
    • I am somewhat familiar with the six different components of Writing Pathways.
    • I have a general idea of what the Writing Workshop structure entails.
  4. Testimonials by teachers who already have experience with Writing Pathways
  5. A brief, direct instruction overview of the six components
  6. The teachers explored the six components on their own by (1) browsing through the actual resources, while (2) referring to a handful of slides that contain key facts about each resource. As the teachers worked, they were encouraged to collaborate/discuss with their teammates.
  7. Break
  8. The teachers individually completed the QTT graphic organizer by synthesizing (1) what they knew about the six components, with (2) key quotes about each resource that were pulled straight from the book. As the teachers worked, they were encouraged to collaborate/discuss with their teammates.
  9. Video: A Day in the Life of Writing Workshop. (While Writing Workshop was not the main focus of the day, the integration of Writing Pathways with Writing Workshop is our eventual goal. So, we thought that the video would help to provide some context and preview where we are headed.)
  10. A review of the enduring understandings (see Step 3)
  11. A review of the essential question (see Step 2)
  12. A brief talk about what’s next: the distribution of a follow-up survey to gauge teachers’ reactions to the learning, and using subsequent sessions to dive deeper into the six components.
  13. Thank you!

Just like any other professional development session that I have facilitated/co-facilitated, some parts “clicked,” while others I would modify if it had to be done again. Either way, I do feel that the teachers appreciated the “less is more” approach to the day, and it was exciting to see that some of them are already asking for resources to assist in facilitating the Writing Workshop model that integrates with Writing Pathways.

What does your school or district “do” for writing instruction? What are your experiences with Writing Pathways and/or Writing Workshop? What kind of writing instruction have you seen “work” for students?

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Two Presentations from Hershey

Last week I traveled a few hours to Hershey, Pennsylvania for three days of educational fun at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference (PETE & C) 2015. Embedded below are the two slide decks that were used for the presentations that I conducted with Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5). Below each slide deck is a link to the session’s resources. Enjoy!



Pigs Rock And Roll: Our Strategy for Multiple-Choice Reading Comprehension Questions

Posters - PRARAs mentioned previously, “In my classroom we are all about explicit strategies… Reading and writing strategies are taught early on in the school year, and then we continuously spiral them throughout the year as students dive deeper and deeper into how to leverage them effectively. This approach to teaching and learning provides everyone with a common language, which helps in stimulating collaboration amongst students and a positive classroom culture. (This method is even more beneficial when the same strategies are utilized across multiple classrooms and grade levels.)”

While an earlier post details our strategy for open-ended responses to texts, here is a look at Pigs Rock And Roll, which is what my students use when they have to read texts and then answer multiple-choice questions.

    • Preview the story. Do everything you can do without actually reading it!
      (This involves reading the questions first, looking at the title, author, pictures, captions, etc.)
    • Read the story. Check off possible answers as you go!
      (When students see a possible answer, they “bookmark” it with a quick check mark in the margin.)
    • Answer the questions. Underline and number the answers in the story!
      (This way, the students are explicitly connecting each answer with its evidence.)
    • Reread the story if you are having trouble!

Initially, the students are expected to be comfortable with all four of these steps. As we get later into the school year, the first and last step are usually stressed as mandatory, while the middle two steps are declared optional (for most students).

Finally, please notice that all four steps can be completed with nothing more than a pencil (as opposed to switching back and forth between a pencil and a highlighter). Highlighting “can actually distract from the business of learning and dilute your comprehension.”

Here is a link to a printable version of the Pigs Rock And Roll poster. Feel free to use it, and make sure to share what strategies your students use for multiple-choice reading comprehension questions.

iAsc: Our Approach to Open-Ended Reading Response

Posters - iAsc, DirectionsIn my classroom we are all about explicit strategies, not just for reading comprehension but also when it comes to writing. Reading and writing strategies are taught early on in the school year, and then we continuously spiral them throughout the year as students dive deeper and deeper into how to leverage them effectively. This approach to teaching and learning provides everyone with a common language, which helps in stimulating collaboration amongst students and a positive classroom culture. (This method is even more beneficial when the same strategies are utilized across multiple classrooms and grade levels.)

Awhile back I was looking for a strategy that could help my students with open-ended responses to texts, and I came up with iAsc (a play on iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.):

    • introduction: preview what the response will be about
    • Answer: answer all questions
    • Support: support each answer with evidence and examples
    • Conclusion: remind the reader what the response was about

Each answer starts with an introduction and ends with a conclusion. Sandwiched in between are multiple paragraphs, usually 2-3. Each one of these paragraphs contains an answer along with its support (or evidence). It is explained to students that the level and quality of support is really what distinguishes a good answer from a great answer. An answer’s support can include direct quotes from the text, text evidence put into a student’s own words, and possibly different types of connections (text to self, text to text, text to world). As students become more and more comfortable with the iAsc strategy, they grow skilled at being able to adapt it to unique situations/questions to which they must respond, such as answering a question in which they must analyze two texts at the same time, rather than just one.

Below are three versions of our iAsc template. Think of them as graphic organizers. Students use them to collect and organize their work. Then, they create a final answer in the form of multiple polished paragraphs.

    • Printable form, for students to complete with pen or pencil
    • PDF form, for students to complete electronically
    • Google form, for students to complete on Google Drive (shareable with teacher and/or other students)

Here is a link to a printable version of the iAsc poster. Feel free to use it, and make sure to share what strategies your students use for open-ended response!

Common Core Approved Cafeteria Milk

MilkWith the Common Core State Standards staring everyone in the face, many districts are left scrambling to either (1) purchase “Common Core certified” materials or (2) adapt their old materials for the Common Core. In general, I prefer the latter. Simply purchasing a new series could most likely lead to teachers “doing the same thing” but with new materials, treating the series as if it is the curriculum when it is just a tool or resource. Furthermore, it is obvious that publishers have rushed their products to market in an effort to cash in on the new standards. (I’m surprised that our cafeteria milk has yet to be Common Core approved.)

When rolling out Common Core professional development in a subject such as Language Arts, it could be advantageous to focus on the current series, as this is where most teachers are comfortable. Then, discuss how to reinvent the series in order to meet the needs of the Common Core and higher-order thinking.

At a recent building-based professional development session, we took the following steps:

    1. We modeled best practice by starting with (and constantly referring back to) our essential question, “How can fewer questions lead to a deeper understanding?”
    2. Staff members were presented with about half of a story from the current Language Arts series and given time to answer a handful of the comprehension questions that come with the teacher manual.
    3. Staff members discussed, “How deep does the student’s understanding of the text have to be in order to correctly answer these questions?” In other words, we wanted teachers to “uncover” the conclusion that questions from the series do not necessarily promote higher-order thinking. After, we hammered home this point with slides that showed that all of the answers could be found in the text without any inferential thinking whatsoever.
    4. Staff members were assigned the following task: Using an upcoming story from the Language Arts series, create at least three higher-order questions that enable students to demonstrate deeper understanding. Then, think about how you can structure classroom activity around these questions. (In other words, replace several thin questions with three thick questions, and then develop a classroom activity based on these three questions.)

The session included a bit more, such as an overview of Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, but the above steps were the central focus of what was accomplished.

By starting with the “old” series and working from there, Common Core professional development can meet participants within their comfort zones. As a result, successful change is more likely to occur. At the same time, the Common Core will not be seen as just another series that needs to be taught, but as a new set of practice and content standards that should be implemented with help from available tools and resources.

colAR Mix App and Visualizing

colARWhen I first started teaching about six years ago, one of the biggest mistakes I made was believing that reading comprehension did not consist of much more than reading texts and then answering follow-up questions. Then, everything changed when I read Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann, followed by Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. Now, all of my reading comprehension instruction is encompassed by the essential question, “How can I understand while I am reading?” In other words, it is what great readers do while they are reading that makes them great. This teaching relies heavily on student metacognition and the explicit strategies of monitoring comprehension, activating and connecting to background knowledge, questioning, visualizing, inferring, determining importance in text, and summarizing and synthesizing information. (It is also my firm belief that students should be consistently using these strategies from first grade through high school.)

I am always looking for unique ways to leverage different technologies in order to teach these explicit strategies, and to help in deepening student understanding of what they read. A few weeks ago, I decided to use the augmented reality iOS app, colAR Mix, to teach the strategy of visualizing through a writing workshop. ColAR Mix is an app that literally brings drawings to life! Through the app’s official website, the user can print out coloring pages. Then, when the app’s camera is focused on the printed page, the drawing pops out of the page and animates. It is really one of those things that has to be seen to be believed.

The question that drove the lesson was, “Why are inferring and visualizing BFFS?” (By the end of the lesson, I wanted students to understand that while reading, drawing inferences is a necessary part of visualizing.) The writing workshop consisted of four steps:

    1. The students performed free writing with nothing in front of them for inspiration.
    2. The students performed free writing. For inspiration, each student used a black and white coloring page that had been printed from the app’s website.
    3. The students performed free writing. For inspiration, the students first colored in their coloring pages.
    4. The students performed free writing. For inspiration, the students animated their colored pages with the colAR Mix app. (I should also note that I told my students about all four stages before they did any writing at all. This helped to build anticipation, and they just could not wait to see what I meant by “bringing your drawing to life!”)

Once all four stages were complete, the students presented their writing, with an emphasis on how their writing improved as their inspirational coloring pages became more and more “alive” (nothing > black and white > colored > animated). As a class, we discussed (1) how the details became clearer as the students were able to better visualize what was taking place, and (2) how inferences still needed to be combined with the coloring pages in order for stories to be created.

The handout from the lesson is here. Feel free to use it!

Please let me know how you approach reading comprehension and/or the teaching of the explicit strategies!

How We Start the School Year!

Cooper ChocolateAbout two weeks prior to the start of the school I mail my new students and parents a welcome letter and a supply list. This year, I decided to throw in a bit of flare by enclosing the content in a “candy bar wrapper,” which I modeled after the Wonka Bar from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. My wrapper was created in Adobe Illustrator with the help of the Willy Wonka font, which I was able to find and download for free after a quick Google Search. For the sake of authenticity, I tried to make my chocolate bar look as close to the Wonka Bar as possible. Also, the back (not pictured) contains a QR code that connects to my classroom website. 

Golden TicketAlong with the two papers, the wrapper also included a golden ticket, which invited new students to a classroom technology day, approximately ten days prior to the start of the school year. (Once again, the golden ticket mimics the “real” golden ticket as closely as possible.) Due to the heavy emphasis that is placed on technology in my classroom, I like to get students started with certain tools as soon as possible. Also, I can take this time to proactively establish rapport with my students, which pays off later on when certain learning obstacles may occur.

So, towards the middle of this past August, 20 out of my 28 new students entered into my classroom for the very first time. More or less, the day was split into four parts:

    1. Story Arc – Students learned the basic story arc: setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution. (This idea was borrowed from the Toontastic app, which provides this structure in order to assists users in creating stories.) We also discussed how all movies, television shows, and books follow a certain structure, in one way or another. After, the students were informed that their task for the day was to build a five scene movie, one scene for each step of the story arc.
    2. iMovie Demo – I conducted some basic demos, emphasizing the workflow that the students would be following. This included shooting video on their iPod Touches, bringing the content into iMovie as a new event, transferring the footage to a new project, and then trimming, adding titles and transitions. We also talked about various export options.
    3. Letting Go! – The students, in groups of 4-5, were provided with time to shoot the footage for their movies. However, prior to jumping on the technology, they were encouraged to first storyboard their five scenes. (A little more work at the beginning makes everything less stressful later on!)
    4. Student Showcase – Once the movies were created and handed in (via the student shared drive on my district’s network), the students proudly showed off their creations. I do have to say that I was blown away by their work and their creative confidence, especially considering the fact that for many of them this was their first time using iMovie.

Overall, this was an exciting start to the school year, and I look forward to providing my students with more opportunities to improve upon their digital storytelling abilities.

If you’re a classroom teacher, let me know how you start off the new school year!