Building Autonomy, Maximizing Class Time: Writing Workshop in Stations

I am in LOVE with this idea from Shelby Scoffield at Edutopia: Creating a Writer’s Workshop in a Secondary Classroom, published just yesterday.

In the article, she shares the station rotation model that she uses with her AP and Honors English students to elevate Writing Workshop to the secondary level.  She provides examples of stations (which you can see below) and descriptions of them.

edutopia-scoffield-writersworkshopsecondaryclassrm

In the comments section, she clarifies what she does as the teacher and facilitator of the Writing Workshop stations:

  • Beginning of class: spend a few minutes at each station:
    • explain the assignment
    • provide any important information they’ll need
    • answer any initial questions they have
  • During the rest of class: settle into the teacher-led table, where you’ll conduct a more in-depth lesson on a more difficult skill before those students apply that to their papers.
  • Once the in-depth lesson is complete (I would assume):
    • constantly make rounds and check in to eliminate the problem of students always needing your attention
    • Be sure to spend extra time at the tables where students are tackling specific skills.

At every station, students are learning and the applying what they learn to their writing. It still utilizes the basic elements of Writing Workshop with which we are familiar, just applies those in a different format.

Scoffield has not provided any specific information about rotation or how often they switch (these are also decisions we can make for our students and the management of our classrooms.).

Scoffield  has designed this for her AP & Honor students.  However, I think this is applicable and easily modifiable for all levels of students.  Some classes might just need more structure ahead of time and may need more practice in the model and feedback from their performance in Writing Workshop to gain the full benefits of it.  Still, I think it’s worth the effort because I think this Writing Workshop model could solve one of our biggest problems: classroom time.  And another: student autonomy.  Of course, we have to be smart and strategic about the station set-up so students are still getting what they need (and hopefully even more) from the process.

Here are my initial thoughts after reading the article:

Potential Benefits:

  • students can choose skills they need to work on, instead of a one-size-fits-all model of mini-lessons and mentor texts
  • students are in charge of their own learning and development in that they tell teachers what skills they need to work on or would like to work on
  • the onus is on the students – they choose the skill and then they have to do the work of learning at that station and then applying what they’ve learned
  • student choice will require self-awareness of their writing skills and awareness of what skills make writing great (and would work nicely with the portfolio process that the 12th grade teachers have implemented at TC)
  • 10-day Writing Workshop Units could be pared down to 4-5 days of stations
  • student-centered learning & differentiated instruction
  • better student products, less grading frustration

Possible Hiccups:

  • initial set-up, planning, and facilitation may be time-consuming, but if we work together and share materials for certain skills, that will be alleviated somewhat over time
  • classroom-management in more difficult classes (there is the possibility here to have me co-facilitate with you so that there is another person in the room to manage the process.)
  • physical space in the classroom – do we have enough? What other spaces could we use for an activity like this?

Shelby Scoffield is on Twitter, though (@sscoffield1), so maybe we can tweet our questions her way for clarification and tips!  You can also join the conversation below the article on Edutopia.

If you have additional ideas for stations (this somewhat depends on what students tell you they want to work on) or would like to try this in your classroom, let me know and I’d be happy to help you plan and facilitate them! You know how to find me. 🙂

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Poetry & Personal Narrative: Two Texts to Get Students Writing

For this #writingworkshopwednesday, I’m sharing a poem and a NYT resource, both of which can be used to get students writing, thinking, and creating.

Background Noise & Narrative:

This gem showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday:

tweet

And it immediately made me think of personal narrative (or really any kind of narrative writing) writing – in the tradition of Penny Kittle’s “Music of my Heart” and the life-soundtracks many of us have had kids think about.

The article, “What are the Sounds That Make Up the Background Noise in Your Life” by Michael Gonchar uses a New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman, “Dear Architects: Sound Matters” as a jumping-off point to get students thinking about what kind of background noises are in their lives.

The “Dear Architects” article is a great starting text for all of us, and when you and your students go to read it (I recommend using excerpts from it, which would work better since the whole article isn’t relevant for our purposes and to get the idea across in a manageable time frame.), make sure you have the opportunity to hear it as well.  Included in the article are photographs of everyday places, such as the New York Public Library’s Reading Room, an office building, and the subway that, when you hover your mouse over them, reveal the background noise of each place.  As Kimmelman states, “The spaces we design and inhabit all have distinctive sounds . . . It may be sealed off from the outside, and you may think it is quiet. Is it?,” sound is part of the architecture designers create and it also part of the architecture of our lives.

What can our students’ writing gain by thinking about, discovering, or recording the background noise of their lives?  How can this study reveal more about their personal lives (or the personal lives of any character)?  How can background noise be articulated in font and how might it drive, enhance, or amplify an existing narrative?

As we answer these questions, I think we begin to arrive at a valuable resource and idea to both prepare students to write about themselves and to test out new narrative techniques in their writing.  The original article, “What are the Sounds . . . ” provides some reading-response questions that might be a good transition from reading to thinking to writing.

 

Current Events & Poetry:

The other gem that found me yesterday was my poets.org poem-a-day, “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz” by Matthew Olzmann.  “Letter” is a haunting poem that could be effective not only for writing workshop, but also for Socratic Seminar or literature circle discussions. (Here’a a word document version with line numbers: Letter Beginning Olzmann)

It’s going to take up a lot of room here, but please (PLEASE) take the time to read it all (you won’t be able to stop once you start . . . )

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

Matthew Olzmann

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school?
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop

to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might

reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,

I had one student
who opened a door and died.

It was the front
door to his house, but

it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written

any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old

and was aiming
at someone else. But

a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t

distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,

and how was the bullet
supposed to know this

child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment

because his friend
was outside and screaming

for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who

opened a door and died?
That’s wrong.

There were many.
The classroom of grief

had far more seats
than the classroom for math

though every student
in the classroom for math

could count the names
of the dead.

A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,

nor could the gun, because
“guns don’t kill people,” they don’t

have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose

or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t

have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how

we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,

and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside

each of them. Today,
there’s another

shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,

a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world

is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,

you may open a door

and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be

mourned, then buried
in rhetoric.

There will be
monuments of legislation,

little flowers made
from red tape.

What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close

like a door above you.
What should we do?

And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

Wow, right?

So since this is #writingworkshopwednesday, I’m going to stay focused on using this with our Writers’ Notebooks, but feel free to let your mind wander into all of the incredible possibilities available here.

One way to use this poem as as mentor-text inspiration is to allow students to borrow the same lines from Czesław Miłosz that the author did:

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

I think there are so many opportunities for students to write about themselves or characters in novels (from the perspective of the author, other characters, etc.) by beginning with these two lines.  I imagine Sethe writing to Beloved (Toni Morrison’s Beloved), Jay to Daisy (Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby), Ida or Vivaldo or Eric to Rufus (Baldwin’s Another Country), or Walt Whitman writing to the Country (since he desperately wanted Leaves of Grass  to keep the nation from falling into civil war).  There are so many possibilities; it could easily work with independent reading selections as well.

We could also use this poem to talk about this writing-move of the response poem (of sorts) or the “life a line” (or two from another poem) to begin our own.  Students could take lines from poetry or songs and use it to frame or inspire a poem. (The could lift a line from this poem to start another as well. I would choose something related to the “the deadbolt of discourse,” I think.)

And of course, this could be a wonderful mentor text on how to write poetry that is also relevant and timely social commentary.  Maybe students research current events (we could collaborate with the history teachers on this too) and use this format to write a poetic letter that makes a comment about an issue in the community that they care about.

Lots of inspiration with these two texts! Happy workshopping! 🙂

As always, feel free to share any adaptations, additions, etc. you make and student samples or work produced from these ideas.

 

#WWW Writing Workshop Wednesday: Tips for Productive Peer Conferences

As both students and teachers, we’ve seen the many failures of peer review. We’ve experienced and witnessed students not knowing how to comment on another’s writing or how to identify flaws in writing, and sometimes we witness students who think that criticism is “mean” and they would prefer to be “nice.”  On the flip side, we’ve all seen situations where students are too mean on purpose and don’t take the assignment seriously.

So, how do we make peer review meaningful and productive in our classrooms?

This question arose out of a discussion of Writing Workshop during the 11th-grade full-day PLC.  Below is a compilation of our brainstormed solutions as well as a few additional ideas.

Whole-Class Peer Conferencing: Krystal shared a strategy she used with advanced students, in which students’ papers (the names blacked out) were projected from the document camera.  Krystal would then model peer review/constructive criticism, a process the rest of the class would ultimately join in on.  The class comments and asks questions about the paper, and the author has the opportunity at the end to respond to that feedback.  It both holds students accountable for producing quality drafts and provides practice for students in constructive feedback.  In addition, the process makes the writer think about his/her choices as he/she responds to the questions that emerged throughout the review.

Small-Group Read-Aloud & Annotation: Abbe shared a strategy that she and I have done with our AP Language students, which could be applied to accelerated and college prep levels with additional support and structure. In preparation for peer review, students bring multiple copies of their drafts, one for each member of their peer review group and one for them.  During peer conferencing, the student reads his/her paper aloud while the rest of the group listens and annotates the draft. After the student completes his/her reading, the group reports back their comments/questions, etc. and they discuss the paper.  This becomes a productive back-and-forth dialogue between the group and the writer.  Once they’ve exhausted the first paper, the move around the circle until everyone’s paper as been the center of attention.

I first did peer conferencing like this in a college creative writing class, and even though it made me uncomfortable to read my work aloud, it was a productive process as both peer review and self-evaluation.  In the college classroom, there was also a nice dialogue with questioning more so than strictly commenting, which would be the ultimate goal of productive peer conferencing.  Of course, with our various levels of students and abilities in high school classrooms, getting our students to ask each other productive questions that make the writer think and reflect and respond is more difficult than it would be in a college setting, but it is by no means impossible. 

Conference with a Question in Mind:  In a discussion about conferencing, Nicole talked about requiring that her students come to teacher-student conferences with a question (prior to them doing this the first time, Nicole models conversations to help student turn their concerns into viable questions).  The same expectation is feasible in a peer conference.  Often, we set the focus of peer review.  If we could work with students in developing those questions from the issues, weaknesses, or stumbling-blocks in their writing, then those questions could also drive a small group peer conference.  In a writing workshop model, where students will have had the same scaffolding, mini-lessons, etc., and in a classroom where collaboration and questioning is routine, students could productively help each other in working through those questions.

Peer Conferencing Circles with Roles: I suggested a peer-conferencing model that might look like an inquiry circle or literature circle in that we’d assign group roles.  What those roles would be would largely depend on the assignment and the strengths and experiences of the students.  Some examples of writing circle roles that could work are the “Format-Fiend,” who would look for adherence to MLA format, the “Transition-Tester,” who makes sure that paragraphs and ideas are connected through transitions, the “Thesis-Tracker,” who reads to make sure that the body paragraphs explicitly and clearly support the thesis,” or the “Audience Auditor,” who finds out who the intended audience is and evaluates the paper for the appropriateness and/or effectiveness of language and content for that audience.  These roles might be too much to start, depending on the level of the student, so they could also be simpler, including roles that focus on sentence structure, logical progression, a strong introduction and conclusion, topic sentences, evidence, citations, etc.  We can provide expectations/guidelines for each of the roles so the students know what to do and what to look for, and in doing this kind of focused peer conferencing, we’re also meeting some of those reading standards we’re always practicing.  The opportunities here are really endless. The benefits are that students can play to their strengths and have one specific focus for every paper they read in the peer conference.  This way, not every student has to look for everything, but the writer still gets a variety of specific feedback.

Must-haves: Modeling & Focus. Whatever approach we take, it is important to keep two things in mind: modeling and focus.  As teachers with extensive practice in peer-review from our education, we need to model what constructive criticism, academic conversation, and effective questioning looks like.  Students don’t often have the language to communicate effectively in peer conferencing, and this is something we can model and practice throughout writing workshop units. Even if a conversation begins with, “I don’t like this,” we can work with students to better zero in on what they don’t like by continuing to ask them questions in return, such as, “What don’t you like about it?” and starting to give them the language of word choice, sentence structure, etc.

While we’d like students to be able to work through research and writing with self-generated questions based on self-evaluation, we know that this is not necessarily going to happen immediately.  This is why helping students focus when conducting peer review is an important facet to productive peer conferencing.  Assignments that blankly ask students to “review” one another will end in little productivity.  If we’ve taught mini-lessons on thesis statements and organizing an essay from that thesis statement and that’s a focus of our rubric, then perhaps we have them review for those things.  We can give them questions and guidelines to help them evaluate those elements in the form of a handout, but because they’ve had the mini-lesson and the practice, they already have a basic working knowledge and language to discuss that component. The focus can easily be set by the teacher and align with mini-lessons taught before writing or in the revision process.  This way we zero students in on something they have had practice on and something they should definitely be looking for as peer reviewers, and the more we do it, the more experience they’ll have in the types of things we can revise for in peer conferences.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll apply all of this knowledge to self-evaluation as well.

Meme Monday: Comma Sense

It’s Meme Monday here at BHP English Headquarters, and today we’re visiting the most used and the most misused punctuation mark, the comma.

Memes can make us laugh, but they can also be valuable teaching tools in the classroom.  They give a quick and often funny saying paired with a visual.  Displaying these in the classroom can help reinforce class rules and expectations or, in the case of today’s post, reinforce or teach grammar rules. (They also make for a more creative/out-of-the-box thinking assignment that could easily be a classwork/homework grade.)

The following memes could be used as warm-up activities where students try to define/identify the comma rule that’s being misused (aka . . . why are these memes funny?), as part of Writing Workshop mini-lessons, or has reminders of and references to comma rules you’ve already taught.

The comma rules our memes are covering today are:

  • Use commas to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items.
  • Use commas to set off the name, nickname, term of endearment, or title of a person directly addressed.

commas 2 commas 5 commas

Our Writers’ Teas are Coming – Let’s Celebrate Student Writing!

Let’s celebrate student writing!

Our 2015 Writers’ Teas are as follows:

Timber Creek: Wednesday, May 27th!

Triton:Thursday, May 28th! (different than the date on the original school calendar)

Highland: Tuesday, June 2nd!

writersteaparty

Other than People’s Choice, the Writers’ Tea celebrations of writing are my favorite warm-and-fuzzy nights of the year!

As always, we are looking for students (and teachers) to share all kinds of original writing on these celebration evenings.  We will publish the work in a booklet (and perhaps online in some way if I can figure that out) and provide them with certificates of participation.  There will be food – and family & friends are encouraged to attend with them. We even have NJEA Pride money again this year to help us fund the event.

This year, thanks to a suggestion from the February in-service, we will have emcees who will enthusiastically tie the program together! Thank you to Joe Hart, Cathy Stelling, and Beth Marks for taking on this task and sharing your awesomesauce, humor, and general delightfulness with all.

We would also LOVE if you can encourage Project V.O.I.C.E. participants to try their hand at sharing an original composition.

In addition, I’m thinking we’ll advertise it as a “Open Mic Night.”  Submissions will still have to be in ahead of time (and reviewed by the teacher), but “Open Mic Night,” sounds a bit more rad than a “Writers’ Tea.”  I will put together advertisements for schools and classrooms within the next week, but please start talking to your students now if you haven’t already.  (I know many of you have! Thank you :))

I have a bit of money to spend on decor, so if you have ideas for that or for set-up, let me know.  I’d like to continue to make this a successful and enjoyable event. 🙂

Feel free to check out the writing workshop tag or writer’s tea tag for ideas on ways to get them writing creatively (teacher’s choice for 4th mp?) in preparation for the Tea!  I’ll also post some additional ideas on the blog in the coming days.

Have a great writing assignment that you’d like to share?  Shoot me an email and I’ll post it for all to enjoy!

Pre-Holiday Lesson Plans for the Days Before Break: The Year in Review, My Favorite Things, and Current Events

So I thought, since (of course) the expectation is that we’re conducting meaningful activities and learning in our classrooms through the 23rd (despite pep rallies and holiday parties and other distractions), that I would compile some options that might take the thinking/research/planning off of your plate after benchmarks are completed.

Option 1: The Year in Review

The New York Times’s Learning Network features an article “Looking Back on 2014″ with 15 ideas (with links and resources) for having students think about and reflect on 2014.  It also includes “retrospectives” linked from the New York Times and around the web for the biggest stories of 2014.

Included in the links are some resources that could be great sources of inspiration for discussion, Socratic Seminar texts, or Writing Workshop prompts including TIME and CNN’s “Top Ten Pictures” & “The Year in Pictures;” “16 Memes that broke the internet,” TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year, and “The Year in Ideas: TED Talks in 2014.”

There’s also Time’s “29 Instagrams that defined the world in 2014,” shared by Bonnie!

There are a lot of great ideas here that can be literacy-based and meaningful for those last two days of school in 2014! Check them out. 🙂

Option 2: A Few of My Favorite Things

Brainpickings creator and author, Maria Popova recently highlighted Maira Kalman’s My Favorite Things on her site. She includes screenshots from the book that often combine text with art and it might be fun to have students create a visual (with text explanations or titles) “My Favorite Things.”  This could easily be worked on Monday & Tuesday and displayed on bulletin boards and walls.  Have them share and discuss.

You could even create a class, “Our Favorite Things,” where you roll out big paper and have each student choose one of their favorite things to add to the class visual-list as they draw and write together on the floor or wall of your classroom.  It would almost be a class infographic on everyone’s favorite things.  This could springboard from or into a discussion or writing workshop activity where students reflect on the class-list and determine what this list tells them about their class or something that surprises or intrigues them.

If students have to provide a visual with their title and explanation, this could be a really fun and dynamic piece of your classroom decor.

Popova even references and links Barthes’s favorite things – and not favorite things (scroll down for the visuals) and Susan Sontag’s (scroll down for visual).  Lots of fodder for mentor texts here!

Option 3: Current Events (Caution: Heavy): The Taliban’s Murder of 132 Children at School in Pakistan

Here’s the Reuter’s article: Taliban go on killing spree at Pakistan school, 132 students dead.

My goals in sharing this and opening up a dialogue about it would be creating awareness of others  and self, including how lucky they are to be provided an education without question or issue.  The other interesting topic of discussion here could be the power of education.  Why would they target school children?  What is so “dangerous” about a school and children learning?

Of course, we know that education is perhaps the single greatest weapon in history, but our students don’t have any such appreciation for it.  Pair this current event with excerpts from I am Malala or a news story about her fight for the education of young girls and the price she paid for it.  In fact, here is her response to the attack.

This might also be fascinating paired with the TED Talk from Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, Children of the Taliban, Inside a School for Suicide Bombers, which explicitly shows how the Taliban uses and manipulates the educational system to its political and religious ends.

I know this is a rather heavy option right before the holidays, but it’s engaging and important also.  It reminds me how important the season’s cry of “Peace on Earth” is in the world in which we live.

“Heaven or Whatever” by Shane Koyczan, a Spoken Word Video

So, it’s Monday.

And I’ve found that the best break for assessment-writing on any Monday morning, is poetry (or a poet) that inspires you.

So when I saw that Shane Koyczan, author of “To This Day,” penned and compiled another spoken word mini-film, I couldn’t help myself.

There are a few ways this poem/video can connect to what you’re teaching.  It can begin or engage a discussion about respecting beliefs (before or with any text where there is a difference in beliefs), serve as a nice intro to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, be a mentor text for Writing Workshop for memoir, personal narrative, or just a creative piece about someone they’ve lost or something someone important taught them, an example of a creative-writing/film teacher’s choice assessment from their perspective or a character’s, as a cinepoem example if you have them create their own (a project I used to do with Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, if you’re interested), and . . . plenty more.

So here’s the video.  It’s worth every second of your day that it’ll occupy while you’re watching it and all those seconds it’ll resonate with you afterwards:

here’s the accompanying blurb from youtube: As a kid I was a terrible Catholic… as an adult I’m an okay atheist. I’ve seen religion do good. I’ve known people who were able to turn their entire lives around because they found God. That just hasn’t been my experience. I think, in this life, we search for what gives us comfort. For some people it’s a concept like Heaven, for others it’s something different. I make no claims that what I believe is the truth… it’s simply what I believe. I’m grateful that I was able to find some small measure of harmony with my granddad despite our conflicting spiritual paths… I guess that’s how I’ve learned to define respect.

Black Horse Pike NCTE 2014 Presentation Materials

Our trip to NCTE in National Harbor, MD was a great success (and quite a lot of fun!).  Looking to attend next year?  Check out the call for proposals due January 14, 2015.

We’ll be turn-keying some of the great ideas we gathered for our department, but we also wanted to share our presentations and materials for our reference and for those who attended our sessions.

**Friday morning, Bonnie Brady, Jessica DiVietro, and Beth Marks presented on Close & Cloze reading.  (#ncteclozeclose)

Empowering Readers Through Personal Interactions with Text Prezi

Handouts: NCTE Book Thief Resources BradyNCTE Resources MarksNCTE Resources DiVietro

TWEET CLOZECLOSE

**Friday afternoon, Abbe Elliott, Marcie Geyer, Kelly Wierski, and Tara Wood presented on Writing Workshop. (#ncteww)

Writing Workshop in Motion Prezi

Handouts are available on the Writing Workshop page of this blog.

TWEET WW

**Saturday morning, Jessica Evans and Sherrie Erickson presented on student-centered assessments: (#nctepba)

Performing Beyond the Assessment Prezi

Handouts and materials are available at their site.

TWEET PBA

And, for funzies, our Penny Kittle selfie:

penny kittle