Peer Editing

At this time in the school year, I find that my students and I need to regroup and discuss the role of a peer editor in writing workshop. My students have made a lot of progress with peer editing, however, we need to regroup and talk about what is going well and what can be improved. This helps recharge and refresh everyone’s understanding of peer editing.

I started this conversation with this simple chart. I asked my students: “What’s helpful?” and “What’s not helpful?”

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Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 7.04.05 PMMy students wrote their thoughts on sticky notes, and we reviewed the ideas together. As you can see in the sample sticky note, my students were eager to get some constructive criticism that would help move their writing forward. They were growing tired of receiving too many compliments and not enough feedback.

We had an open conversation about what was going well with peer editing and what needed improvement. My students acknowledged that it was hard to tell their peers the honest truth about their writing. I was proud of my students. They showed great empathy for their peers’ feelings. I knew we had to talk about ways we could make everyone feel secure about their writing, while also being helpful.

My students and I agreed that it was best to offer a “Feedback Sandwich” when doing peer edits. A Feedback Sandwich is: Compliment, Constructive Criticism, Suggestion. The “Sandwich” allows peer editors to sandwich their constructive criticism between two positive comments.

An example is: 1) Compliment- “You have a good start to your story! I like how it draws me in and I want to keep reading.”

2) Constructive Criticism- “Parts of the story move slowly and I am confused about who the characters are.”

3) Suggestions- “Perhaps you could add some dialogue and action to make it move faster? That would also make it clearer who the characters are.”

What I like about the “Feedback Sandwich” is that my students must read with a critical lens in order to find what is working, what is not, and what steps are needed. This helps them read their own writing with this same critical lens.

Hopefully this will help move my students forward with peer editing. I look forward to seeing how it goes!

Please leave me your thoughts. Is there a better way to give peer feedback?

 

Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in rainy Connecticut, taking long walks in the woods with her yellow lab, and reading the False Prince series by Jennifer Nielsen. Dana was very excited to find out what was at the bottom of 10x on the show, The Curse of Oak Island, this week. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

 

 

 

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Legos for Writing, Reading, Building

IMG_5909Our students are writers and readers. They are also builders, makers, engineers, scientists, historians, musicians, actors and artists. The list goes on and on. I teach students, not reading and writing. And I always want to encourage my students to bring their many talents and affinities into the reading and writing workshop. Building with Legos is one way I can do this.

A few years ago, I spotted an image on Pinterest that caught my eye and made me think about ways to bring Legos into my reading and writing workshops. The image that made me pause was a picture of a child’s room that had walls made of Lego flats. I thought to myself, “How cool would it be to have a wall in my classroom devoted to Lego building? We could build our class stories and characters!”

I teach fifth grade, and just like students of all ages, they love building and making! So I went to Toys R Us and purchased 9 green Lego flats. I used push pins and a small hammer to secure the flats to a portion of a bulletin board. It was surprisingly easy to make and didn’t leave any permanent damage on my bulletin board. I really liked that the board was vertical and not horizontal flat on a table. I liked that because it saved space in my classroom and everyone could see it while seated on the meeting rug.

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I have used the Lego board in many ways in my writing and reading workshops. Here are few ways that I have loved using it: 

1) Story Setting! In the first image at the top of this post you can see how my class built the setting for our whole-class fantasy fiction story. We mapped out the kingdom and the creatures who lived in our made-up land. We referred to this map throughout the writing process and it helped keep us on track.

2) Story Mapping! Teaching story mapping? This is a great wall to build the beginning, middle, and end. Make a linear BME storyboard or a rollercoaster map out of Legos. It is a great visual in the classroom, and your students will love building it and referring to it.

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3) Story Characters! Students can create the characters in their story, a class story, or a read aloud. This is especially great for practicing visualization strategies in reading.

4) The Ending! We’ve all taught students who have story endings that fizzle. Students have spent all their energy writing their stories that when they get to the end, they fizzle. This Lego board revives writers. Have students create their characters with Legos and act out their endings with their writing buddies. This brings much needed energy back to the writing process.

5) Celebrations! Need a new way to celebrate? Have students create an object, symbol, character etc., from their story or from their reading that was meaningful to them. Everyone can share their Lego creation at the celebration and then they can all be displayed on the wall.

 

Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2 and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel. They’re going to get to the bottom of 10x this week! So exciting! Dana has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

Ever Found a Minilesson at the Grocery Store?

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I get minilesson ideas everywhere- at the beach, on walks with my dog, at the grocery store, etc. Just like we encourage our students to live writerly lives and notice the small things around us, we too find inspiration for teaching strategies in the funniest places.

This week when I walked into the grocery store, I saw a small display of dragon fruit. It was mesmerizing. Just look at it. It is such a spectacular looking fruit. Look at the color- such a deep magenta. Check out the leaves that layer it all over. What an amazing fruit! I immediately put it into my shopping basket.

As I continued walking around the grocery store buying things like lettuce, chicken, and cheese, my mind was racing with exciting ideas for the dragon fruit. I didn’t want to eat it- I wanted my students to write about it. But how did the dragon fruit relate to writing?

So many minilesson ideas came to my mind. I could use the dragon fruit as a springboard to teach: descriptive writing, building plot lines, writing prophecies, magic!, creating characters profiles, setting descriptions, etc.

I decided to use the fruit to teach a lesson about “Generating Ideas” for fantasy fiction stories. It was perfect because I am launching a fantasy fiction writing unit. I kept the fruit covered in a special box until the lesson began. I said, “Today we are going to learn a new strategy for generating ideas for fiction stories. We are going to look at an object and allow our imaginations to generate story ideas when we see this object. Our ideas will be inspired by the object.”

I removed the fruit from the box. Gasps filled the room. My students had never seen dragon fruit before, and just like me, they were mesmerized. I asked my students to brainstorm what they thought the fruit looked like. They came up with many different ideas: a magical flower blossom ready to bloom, a dragon’s egg waiting to hatch, a fairytale house for elves, a mysterious magical object left on a doorstep, a precious and magical seed, the important final ingredient to a powerful potion, etc. These ideas all led to some incredible and imaginative storyline ideas. Success!

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 1.45.05 PMSometimes the best minilesson ideas are inspired by unlikely locations. The best advice about teaching writing and creating minilessons that I’ve ever received is from Lucy Calkins. She says to notice the small details in life, use what you know and live, and teach with joy.

In February, I’ll write more about other minilesson ideas that come from the grocery store. Magical eggs! Coconut portals to journey to new lands!

 

 

Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2nd and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Big Bang Theory. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

 

Providing Lifelines for Writers Who Are Struggling

Let’s face it. Helping our writers who are struggling is challenging work. Many times, we try one strategy after another only to end up just as exhausted and frustrated as our students. We know how essential it is to help our students feel successful, but creating a pathway for them to thrive as writers isn’t always clear. Some days, we simply don’t meet our goals despite all of our best efforts. These are the heavy days; the days that cause us to question our talents as teachers. But one of the best things about teaching is, as Dana says, “We get a redo” each time we return to our classrooms. Each stumble can bring us closer to achieving our goal.

My 7th graders contribute to and create a literary magazine each quarter. The stakes are high, as they understand that the strength of the magazine hinges on their ability to create unique works of art. Last week, one of my students approached me for help. Mark couldn’t generate any ideas to write about. The minilessons and instruction I’d provided just wasn’t working. So I did what I’ve done so often in the past when I’m in this situation. I turned to poetry; and poetry saved us!

Just within reach was Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Common Things. I turned to Ode to a Cluster of Violets and read it aloud to my anxious student. He listened quietly and then remarked, “You mean, I could really just write a lot about anything I love?” There was a spark. “Yes!” I exclaimed. “You could write about anything you love a lot. Your writing can pay tribute to what you love just like Pablo Neruda does.” Then there was a flame. A hint of a smile appeared on Mark’s face. “Okay,” he said quietly. For the first time, I could detect a small sense of confidence within him as he returned to his desk with Neruda’s book of odes in hand. Here’s what he wrote:

Ode to R2D2

Beep Boop

simple sounds

but a stream of consciousness

for a droid

not yet capable

of resorting to English

 

Beep Fweep

Off on an adventure

sliding swiftly through the sand

legs whirring under the pressure

too far

to go

 

Wvoop Woo

held back

by what you are

pushed forward

by what you have to do

you must

 

Bweep Doo

underestimated

by those,

all

they don’t

understand

Poetry can be a lifeline for our writers who are struggling. But on this day, Mark felt successful as a writer. He generated an idea he felt passionate about and developed it. But Mark’s ode is more than just an ode to me. It is a message. Similar to R2D2, Mark lives in a world where he feels pressure to communicate. How often does Mark feel “held back” in writing workshop or “underestimated” and misunderstood?

I’d like to invite you to join Dana and I on our Facebook Group to participate in a discussion about ways to help our writers who experience struggles in the writing workshop. Let’s share some of the obstacles we’re facing in our classrooms and some of the breakthroughs we’ve experienced. Because our students, like Mark, are counting on us.

 

 

Sonja Cherry-Paul has been an educator for the past 17 years. She is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. Sonja is a Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards committee member who is committed to celebrating authors and illustrators who address issues related to social justice.

 

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Teaching Theme – Pitfalls and Strategies

In a previous post I discussed the importance of making discussions around theme in the classroom a commonplace experience grounded in the lives we live each day. As a result, students are better positioned to identify and interpret theme in and across the texts they read.

Dana and I define theme as follows:

Theme is a thread that runs throughout a text and evokes an emotional response within the reader.

~ Cherry-Paul & Johansen, 2014

However, teaching students to notice and latch onto this abstract thread is a challenge we face in our classrooms each year. This teaching involves helping our students to draw upon multiple literary elements to arrive at a deepened understanding of theme. And in doing so,  there are three major pitfalls we’ve experienced with our students. Anticipating these pitfalls helps us steer our students toward using the critical thinking skills they’ll need to identify and interpret themes. The following chart describes the pitfalls and offers strategies to avoid them.

Pitfalls

Strategies

“Summarizers”

Students who can become bogged down in summarizing the plot when asked to explain theme or provide text evidence.

Help students learn to differentiate between the events of the story and the theme of a story. Practice this process using a well-known animated movie like The Lion King or Finding Nemo. On a graphic organizer, chart paper, or using an interactive whiteboard, invite students to briefly detail the plot of this text in 2-3 sentences. Then, ask them to try to express a theme that runs throughout the entire text. When students can see plot and theme side-by-side, it helps them to understand that theme is universal, not confined only to a specific text; it lives in our lives and in the world.

“Manufacturers”

Students who rush and identify one event or moment in the story as a theme without text evidence from across an entire text to support their idea.

Help students to slow down, step back, and consider revising their idea. On a graphic organizer, chart paper, or using an interactive whiteboard invite students to find text evidence that supports their ideas about a theme from the beginning of the text, then the middle, and finally the end. If they aren’t able to find text evidence to support their claims about theme from these three parts of a text, then they must consider that they’ve made a rushed decision that could be wrong. Ideas must be deeply rooted in and across the text! This process can also be practiced with a shared or well-known text.

“Minimalists”

Students who limit a text to just one theme and tend to identify and repeat this same theme from text to text.

Help students avoid locking in on the idea that there can be only one theme in a text. Create a graphic organizer, chart, or use an interactive whiteboard to invite students to jot down events from the plot of a shared or well-known text. Group these events and challenge students to name a different theme for each group that relates to the events. This process requires students to slow down and think deeply by considering alternative possibilities and then selecting a theme that resonates most powerfully with strong text evidence.

Graphic organizers for these pitfalls and additional strategies can be found in our book: Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning.

Finally, help students move beyond one-word noun expressions of theme to crafting theme statements using the word is. The following example is from a small group of 6th graders working to express a theme in the picture book The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg:

theme statement

These strategies have have made the process of understanding theme more concrete for our students. Helping students to strengthen their identification and interpretation of themes positions them to support and elaborate on their ideas powerfully using strong text evidence.

 

 

Sonja Cherry-Paul has been an educator for the past 17 years. She is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. Sonja is a Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards committee member who is committed to celebrating authors and illustrators who address issues related to social justice.

 

QR Codes Pt. 2: Adding QR Codes to Your Handouts

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 5.51.05 PMIt’s been awhile since I wrote QR Codes Part 1, and I wanted to circle back and reflect on ways that I use QR codes in my classroom. 

What are QR codes? I tell my students that QR Codes are like “Portkeys” from Harry Potter. They are portals to online resources. Students can scan the QR codes with their smart phones and access online resources so they can practice concepts or get more information.

Why would you put a QR code on a handout? Let’s say you have a spelling practice sheet. The purpose of this practice page is to help students internalize a particular spelling pattern. However, you know that you have some students who learn spelling best if they hear the word and see the word. To help support all of your learners, you can add a QR code to the practice page that will take them to an online game. (See the photo to the right.)

You can add QR codes to any handout! Perhaps a history handout with QR codes to teacher-approved websites with additional information? A math worksheet with a QR code to a flipped lesson? Or a writing workshop handout with a QR code to your class’s blog page of writing tips (a digital writing center!)? The possibilities are endless.

So how do you create a QR code? Here’s how to create handouts with QR Codes.

  1. First, identify the purpose of your QR Code. Are you interested in attaching an online game to your handout? Perhaps a spelling game? Or maybe you want your students to learn more facts about pollution, and the QR code can link to a safe website with information about pollution? Or perhaps you want to add a flipped lesson to your handout?
  2. After choosing the online website, COPY the website address.
  3. Go to http://www.qrstuff.com/ and paste the website address in the box under “Step. 2”
  4. In about two seconds, you will notice the QR code to your right change form. You now have a QR code!
  5. Choose your QR code color. (I prefer black, but if you intend to hang the QR code up in your classroom, choosing a color is fun.)
  6. Download your QR code or take a screenshot of it. It will appear on your desktop.
  7. Drag the QR code onto your handout and resize it as necessary. Or, print it out and tape it onto your handout.
  8. Copy your handout and now you are all set! You have a handout that provides online resources to your students!
  9. For your students to access the QR codes, they must download a “QR code app” on their smart devices. These apps are free.
  10. Enjoy!

I use QR codes on word lists (for games, spelling practice, Quizlet, etc.), study guides (online practice quizzes, flipped lessons), book club handouts (blogs, book links, author sites), and nonfiction reading (websites, historical documents, primary sources). The potential is endless!

 

Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop.

The Symbolism of The Seasons 2

Autumn Illusion

Have you ever tried something new with your group of students and thought, this could either be a hit or a complete miss? Last week, I wrote about my plans for writing workshop with my students. I had hoped that  my students would engage in discussions around the symbolism of the seasons and that this might result in some powerful writing. It did! It worked so well with my 6th graders, I tried it with my 7th graders, too.

Here are two graphic organizers completed by a 6th grader and a 7th grader in their small writing circles. Students worked cooperatively to brainstorm both literal and figurative associations with each season.

Malcolm

6th grader

 

Next, I asked students to write statements about each season that seemed to capture their symbolism.

Julia

7th grader

What now? Students have selected a season to write a vignette, poem, or short story about. I’ve asked them to think of the season as more than just the setting for their writing, but almost as a character itself. They will use their graphic organizers and statements to include both literal and figurative associations of the season in their writing. I’ve reminded them to turn to the work of Cynthia Rylant (November) and Langston Hughes (Early Autumn) for guidance if they’re stuck.

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Writing workshop today was quiet, in the best way! A few students needed some encouragement, but for the most part, students generated powerful ideas and their hands were flying across the page. In my next post, I’ll share some of their writing!