Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Power of Non-Examples

I have seen better writing from this year’s students than I ever have in my fourteen years as a teacher, and I think I know why. But first, a bit of background.

I run a Writing Workshop, where a typical day features a mini-lesson, an independent writing time where students practice the lesson in their Writer’s Notebooks, and a sharing time. The lessons are often based on the Six Traits of Writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. We look at examples of good writing and try to emulate them.

I have used this classroom structure for many years, but something about this year has been different. Now, it could be that I just have a more advanced group of students, but I don’t think so. They are similar to other groups. Instead, it is including non-examples of good writing that I think is making a difference.

What is a non-example? A non-example is the opposite of a mentor test and shows the students what not to do. For example, a lesson on organization included a notebook entry that was obviously poorly organized, along with ones that were excellent. I have incorporated these non-examples into many lessons, and it is having a huge effect. (Note: the non-examples should never be writing from current students) During the lesson, we are able to verbalize the advice we would give to the writer of the non-examples, and the students are internalizing this advice and putting it into action.

Have you tried including examples and non-examples in your writing lessons? If not, give this a try and see if you like the results!

Signposts and Strategies

I love the book Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. This book introduces six key signposts that readers should notice while they read, common elements that many authors include that often give insight toward the deeper meaning of a piece of literature. You can read more about these signposts here.

As much as I enjoyed this book and want to use it, I have struggled to find the best way to present this material. My team uses a reading workshop model that cycles through the various strategies good readers use as identified by many authors including Stephanie Harvey. These strategies include making connections, questioning, visualizing, determining what it important, inferring, and synthesizing. Each time we cycle through these strategies during the year, we go a bit deeper.

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I have been working to figure out the best way to incorporate the Notice and Note Signposts into our curriculum. Last year, I tried spending a week, introducing a new signpost each day. This was useful, but there wasn’t time to fully develop and practice each signpost. The signposts came flying at the students so fast that they sometimes got them confused.

This year, I considered teaching a new signpost each Monday for a six-week period. However, I decided against this because it seemed too random and inauthentic. It wouldn’t connect to anything else we were doing.

I have decided to try to find a natural fit for each signpost in our reading strategy curriculum. Here are the matches I have imagined

  • Aha Moment – Determining Importance
  • Memory Moment – Visualizing
  • Tough Questions – Questioning
  • Words of the Wiser – Inferring/Synthesizing – theme
  • Contradictions – Inferring
  • Again and Again – Determining Importance

Introducing these signposts in a natural spot in the curriculum should give them more meaning and relevance. As I go through the year, I plan to reflect on the success or lack thereof that I experience.

Six Easy Steps to Start Student Blogs (Part 2)

Here’s part two of a mini-series on how to get your blogs off to a speedy and meaningful start. Be sure to catch the first post in the series below.

Lesson 4 – Logging On – When you hear the words “starting a blog,” this is the lesson you are picturing. Students learn to log-in to their blog, change their password, set up their profile, and then create their first post. To motivate students to do a great job, I always show them statistics from previous years. They get very excited to know their writing could be read around the world. Beware – your slowest typers might need additional time to finish.

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Lesson 5 – Post-It Comments – The paper blogs from Lesson 3 come back out for today. First, we discuss the importance of the opportunity to write comments. Comments give the students chance to have global conversations, communicating with students around the world. I teach five types of comments: agree/disagree with a reason, ask/answer a question, add more information, make a connection, and give a specific compliment. We discuss how these comments are much better than “You’re cool” and “Awesome, dude” because those comments don’t add to the conversation. Then, each student gets a pad of Post-it notes, walks around the room, and adds comments to other students’ paper posts. At the end, I ask students to choose a comment they received that was particularly meaningful and share it with a partner.

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Lesson 6 – Blog Comments – Today, students get a chance to make comments on other students’ actual blogs. We review the five types of comments, and then I turn them loose. After I answer any questions, I try to sit at my desk to view and approve comments that come in. If necessary, I’ll pull a student up to my desk and show them how to add to a comment to make it meaningful.

These six lessons will give blogging a jump-start in your room. More lessons can follow later in the year, but these six lessons help lay the groundwork you need to have a successful year of blogging. Good luck!

Six Easy Steps To Start Student Blogs (Part I)

Want to start student blogs, but you’re worried about having to spend too many weeks introducing this style of writing? At our school, we launch our students’ blogs in a series of just six lessons. After these six lessons, we have a functioning blog system that the students use throughout the year.

(Presumptions: You have access to the Internet. You have set up a class on a site like our favorite, KidBlog.)

Lesson 1: Mentor Text Blogs – As with any genre of writing, students need to see examples of quality work before creating their own. In this lesson, share sample blogs with students. A simple Google search will provide you with many choices of student blogs that you can show. I took screenshots of various blogs we thought students would like, put them together on a Google Doc, and shared it with students. You could easily just print them out as well. The students viewed these blogs and then worked in a group to create a list of qualities of great blogs. The groups shared their lists, and we discussed the qualities that appeared on more than one list.

Lesson 2: Developing an Audience – Start by telling kids that you found a blog you know they are going to love (be very dramatic). Then, put up a blog you know they will hate. I like to put up a post on a mom’s blog about the latest Dora movie. The kids’ reaction is priceless! When asked why they don’t like it, the students say, “Because we’re not babies!” This leads into a discussion about audience. The Dora blog is not targeted toward them, but it is still a quality blog. Then, have students make a list of possible blog topics they could write, along with their target audience. This helps students see that this writing is for the real world. The final step today is to have students choose a topic and list possible blog posts that would fit under that topic.

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Lesson 3: Writing a Blog Post…on Paper – The Paper Blog is such a fantastic idea. I don’t know who came up with this idea first, but that person is a genius. I wish I could credit where I first heard about this idea. A big chunk of this lesson is modelling how to write a blog post using a document camera or interactive whiteboard. What you include is up to you. We talk a bit about interesting titles, good beginnings, adding details, and inviting discussion with a question. All of these things are full lessons later in the year, but it’s never too early for students to start hearing about these qualities of great writing.

Now you’re ready to move on to Part Two!