Margin Notes

GET THEM TALKING

Jan
28

Student-led book talks can develop oral language skills and increase student motivation to read. Lucy Calkins in her book The Art of Teaching Reading (2007) shared that the books that mean the most to us are the ones we discuss with our friends and peers. Providing time for students to share book talks in the classroom will allow them to have this same experience.

Book talks are brief, enthusiastic oral descriptions of a book that a student has read. They are also given with the intention of encouraging others to read the book.  As adults this is something we do naturally, but how do we create the conditions to have our students do this as naturally as we do ourselves?

This very idea is explored in a 2016 article,  “Get Them Talking! Using Student-Led Book Talks in the Primary Grades,” by Alida K. Hudson in The Reading Teacher, volume 70 (2).

According to our Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Curriculum Grades K-3, …”children in the early years should be able to express thoughts and describe feelings or experiences, express opinions, and listen to the ideas and opinions of others” p. 24 In addition, “students should be engaging in informal oral presentations” p. 25 …and as well, “regard reading/viewing as sources of interest, enjoyment, and information” p. 27.  Alida Hudson’s concise article lays out the steps to creating this possibility within our classrooms.

To begin, it is important to remember that implementation should be done over the course of several weeks with a  slow, gradual release of responsibility to the students. Alida Hudson suggests the following process:

Step 1: Model, Model, Model

Search the internet for videos of young students giving book talks and pick ones that are good examples.  Share these with students at the beginning of reading time each day for about a week.  After the first cuple of days also begin to ask the students to discuss with their neighbor what they noticed about the books talks. Guide them to see that the book talks all idenify the title and author of the book, discuss the main character of the story and the main idea. Also share during this time that adults often share and recommend books to each other that they enjoy. This helps them understand the purpose of the book talks – to get others to read the book!

Step 2: Direct Instruction

After taking the first week to introduce book talks to students, begin providing direct instruction. After reading a book aloud to your class explain how to prepare a book talk and what information is needed. Consider the creation of an anchor chart like the one shown. The chart will provide the scaffold students need to practice the conversation they will be having about their book. As the teacher, you can then model giving a book talk using the anchor chart with a book you read previously.  Repeat modeling book talks for several days using the chart.

 

(“Get Them Talking! Using Student-Led Book Talks in the Primary Grades”, by Alida K. Hudson in The Reading Teacher, volume 70 (2). )

Step 3: Practice Makes Perfect

Once direct instruction is completed have students prepare book talks in small groups using texts that they already know well and on which they have background knowledge. Each student in the group prepares one section of the book talk.  Have the groups prepare different book talks over several days ensuring each student has a different role each day. To build independence begin working with students in small groups during reading workshop to develop their own complete book talk.

 Step 4: Present

Once some students have their book talks prepared, they take turns presenting. They hold the book with one hand and their written book talk paper in the other to speak.  When finished, celebrate, and allow a few questions. Continue meetings with students in small groups to prepare their book talks until all have had their chance to share. Students should now be prepared to move forward on their own preparing future book talks. You may even want to consider one day of the week as the “Book Talk” day.

Step 5:  Model, Model, Model and Accommodate as Needed

Throughout the year periodically model book talks and reference the anchor chart.  Consider pairing students reluctant to talk with a partner to book talk a text that they have both read. To support EAL students or other learners provide sentence stems and opportunities to practice prior to their turn to speak to the class. Another modification could be to allow a student to share with you verbally their book talk while you transcribe. When it is their turn to present, you could share the book talk for them as the child holds the book. Enrichment opportunities might include book talks to be delivered during an assembly or via the morning announcements or video recordings for other classrooms. Challenge students to consider giving the book talk from the perspective of one of the characters.

Book talks are not limited to any one particular type of reader or text.  Simple modifications to the process shared will allow students to book talk nonfiction.  Instead of sharing story elements, share the main idea and key facts. Books talks address speaking and listening, reading and viewing, as well as, writing and representing outcomes at all grade levels.  In addition, book talks build community in the classroom by allowing students to learn about each other as readers. Student-led book talks are an authentic activity that can be part of any classroom.

To Read the whole article try the ILA search on the International Literacy Association website (if you have a membership) or use the Ebscohost Link .

Hudson, Alida K. (2016) Get Them Talking! Using Student-Led Book Talks in the Primary Grades. The Reading Teacher, 70 (2), 221-225.

 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: PROJECT ZERO’S THINKING ROUTINES TOOLBOX

Jan
14

Project Zero, hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, describes its mission as “to understand and enhance learning, thinking and creativity for individuals and groups in the arts and other disciplines.” You can learn more about Project Zero and its focus on making thinking and learning visible through thinking routines and protocols, documentation, and artifacts here.

Project Zero’s Thinking Routines Toolbox is an extensive collection of routines “designed by PZ researchers to become one of the regular ways students go about the process of learning. Routines are patterns of action that can be integrated and used in a variety of contexts. Educators might even use more than one routine in teaching a single lesson. Routines don’t take time away from anything else educators are doing; instead, they enhance learning in the classroom.”

The toolbox organizes the routines into categories based on the kinds of thinking they will inspire, such as Perspective Taking and Digging Deeper into Ideas. By selecting an activity and clicking on the title under “Resource Links,” you can access a printable one-page description of the routine that outlines its purpose, describes possibilities for applying this routine, and offers tips for launching it in the classroom.

The routines make students’ thinking and learning visible in multiple ways, including writing, talking, drawing, and movement. They are easily adapted to any grade and learning context and are a powerful way to scaffold students’ explorations of various texts, topics, and concepts. This toolbox is filled with options for facilitating authentic discussion and helping students develop the essential skills of critical thinking, close reading, and questioning texts and their world.

 

WORD STUDY: LOOK, SAY, TRACE, COVER, WRITE, CHECK

Dec
15

Oh, the great debate on learning to spell!  Here is what we know: memorization alone by writing the word repeatedly is not the answer. We have come along way from the days of spelling tests and spelling bees to the advantage of all our learners. One thing we do know is that words are tricky and, while it is important for students to learn to spell, we must do better.  As educators, we need to change our thinking and teach our students strategies to learn to spell words.

Miriam Trehearne is a bestselling author and has written several teacher’s resource books for Grades K-5.  In her Grades 1-2 Teacher’s Resource Book, Miriam shares the importance of supporting students in what they know about a particular word, identifying what is tricky about the word and a strategy to help support the students in remembering the word.

Miriam, suggests that guiding students when asked, “Teacher, how do you spell….” with questions such as, “Show me what you know about the word,” or asking “How does it start,” encourages students to practice effective spelling strategies and allows teachers to coach their students to use the spelling prompts they have learned as they attempt to write the word.

Here is a great visual that Miriam provides in the teaching resource on page 226 that you can provide for your students to support them in their spelling:

 

ENGAGEMENT INVENTORIES

Dec
08

Jennifer Seravallo’s The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook Grades K-2, 3-6 sheds a new light on turning assessment data into goal-direct instruction. Often we rely so heavily on formal products such as assignments, benchmark assessments, or exit slips that we forget to use the moment in many everyday opportunities to gather information to help guide our instruction. One way to triangulate data is to pay particular attention to the conversations going on in our classrooms.

Jennifer suggests that “student conversations give teachers a window into student’s understanding… by transcribing these conversations and reflect on them through the lens of comprehension we are able to reveal what a student understands or doesn’t understand.” Jennifer also reiterates how essential, “It is that we provide opportunities across the day for our students to engage in meaningful conversation: about topics of importance to the classroom community, a bout books read together as a class and independently with partners and clubs, about their writing, about math, and so on.  As students speak and listen, it’s just as important for us as teacher to listen and assess.

One tool Jennifer uses to record whole class conversations is by drawing a quick sketch of a circle with students initials placed in reference to where they are seated around the circle.  As the conversation takes place in her class, Jennifer takes notes about what the students are doing, records who speaks and who stays silent (note the check marks around the circle in the diagram below) and includes a brief transcription of what was said.  Jennifer “uses these notes as assessments from which to craft goals and develops teaching and learning opportunities for students.”

Here are two samples shared in The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook:

Engagement inventories are a quick strategy you can try tomorrow in any grade!

THREE SIMPLE WAYS TO IMPROVE STUDENTS’ WRITING STAMINA

Dec
03

Writing takes practice. As teachers we place great emphasis on building students’ reading stamina and yet when it comes to writing we assume students will write independently for extended periods of time without becoming distracted or giving up. If students must practice stamina for reading, why not do it for writing as well?

Early in the year many teachers find their entire class lacks writing stamina and for those who struggle to get words on the page, building writing stamina is paramount in helping students communicate their ideas.

Try these 3 simple strategies to help your students get their thoughts down on paper.

Quick Writes

Students write daily for several minutes without stopping. If a student gets stuck or runs out of ideas, they are encouraged to write the last word written over and over until ready to move on. When the timer goes off, students are asked to finish their last sentence. If students are successful in writing for the entire time, increase the amount of time up to about 10 minutes. Students need not worry about spelling as they are simply to write as much as they can in the time allotted. Some teachers have students count the number of words written and notice the increase over time.

Below are a few simple prompts to get you started:

  • Writing a list; Best/worst things that have happened to me. After students have finished writing, have them star 3 of the things on the list that they may want to write more about later.
  • All about me. Write about yourself. How old are you? Tell me about your family. Do you have any pets? What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What DIDN’T you do this summer? Make a list of all the things you DID NOT do this summer
  • Imagine you could turn invisible. What would you do? Where would you go? What would you do?

A quick google search will glean many more for you to use.

Story Cards for Fiction Writing

Engagement often increases when writers make up their own imaginative stories. Make cards for each of the following story elements: setting, characters, and conflict. Write down multiple places, different roles or people, and various problems.

Choose one of each of the three cards and have students write a story based on the setting, character or characters, and conflicts chosen. You will find some ready made on TPT!

Free Writing

Allowing students time to write in whatever genre or form they want is a sure way to increase writing stamina. Some teachers designate a journal or notebook specifically for this purpose. A set time each day is dedicated to free writing. It is not intended that the writing generated be graded but students may want to tag a page for you to read or to be shared with classmates.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: MARGIN NOTES HAS A SHAREPOINT!

Nov
19

As a teacher, something that fills me with joy is the ability to quickly locate something I need, precisely when I need it and without a lot of frantic searching. 

So, in an effort to make the lives of K-12 literacy teachers easier across ASD-W, the literacy team has developed a SHAREPOINT site.

This has been a labour of love and I’m excited to show you what we’ve developed!

You can find the link at the bottom of this post (link will work for all teachers in ASD-W).

The first thing you’ll see is:

Buttons that take you to our Margin Notes Blog, to information on the three strands and a link to the EECD curriculum site.

Scroll down bit and you’ll find:

Buttons that take you to “Essentials” – all the documents you’ll need to teach Literacy K-12.

Then, if you keep scrolling:

You’ll find more buttons that take you to resources that you will find helpful and interesting.

Keep scrolling…

And you’ll find our Literacy Webinars!

Lastly, you will find…

Upcoming Literacy Events! You can add these to your outlook calendar to stay up to date.

We encourage you to check it out and please share this blog post with others who might this information helpful. We hope teachers will feel like we’ve handed them the easy button!

 

GIVING THE GIFT OF WRITING

Nov
17

I have just received my copy of Cultivating Writers by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch and was so excited to find a whole chapter on making the why of writing visible, knowing that author’s purpose is so important in engaging young writers in the writing process. As Elliott and Lynch state “the why needs to be made clearly visible.” With my copy of the book tucked under my arm I headed into a grade 3 classroom to try out the following lesson. 

Giving the Gift of Writing is a highly engaging lesson to help students think about and articulate the various and valuable reasons we write.  

  1. Place many tools for writing into a gift bag stuffed with brightly coloured tissue paper. Include items such as pencils, markers, loose-leaf, a notebook, a greeting card, a calendar, sticky notes etc…
  2. Bring your students together in their writer’s huddle and display the gift bag to create excitement. 
  3. Slowly remove each item and ask students to think about why these items have been collected into one bag and how they are connected. 
  4. After all the items have been removed ask students to talk with a partner and think of one word that describes how the items are connected. 
  5. Have pairs share their ideas with the whole group. Some possible student responses: writing, art, making things, things to write with, gifts. 
  6. Once students have shared their initial thoughts ask them What is the purpose of writing tools?  Below is a chart of responses by grade 3 students:

7. Share all the reasons you chose to share these items with them. I cannot say it better than the authors: 

 

Extension: Over the next few days ask students to share the reasons they believe the authors of the books they are reading or listening to choose to write these books. Chart student thinking next to the title of the book. 

Get ready to hear your students’ thoughts about why writers write and start cultivating thoughts about why students themselves write. And use this information as data for assessment! 

Try this tomorrow… 

 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: STUDYING CRAFT IN WRITING WORKSHOP

Oct
27

With many teachers moving to teaching using the workshop model, and with an emphasis on choice to give voice and autonomy to the writers in our classrooms, we are frequently asked, “How do you teach mini-lessons in workshop when students are writing in many different genres and forms?”. Studying craft and process are two ways in which you can organize mini lessons that are not genre dependent.

Here is an example of a craft study:

Yesterday as I was preparing to book talk Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, I was refreshing my memory of the book by reading the back cover, which includes:

“I am not a wasted person. I am not prowling the streets. I am not an addict. I am a girl spinning her locker combination. I am a girl who got a B on her math test. I am a girl who has two holes on the inside of her arm, but they do not tell the whole story of me.”

I was struck by the use of what Jennifer Serravallo calls “Tell What It’s Not (to Say What It Is)” and I was thinking what a great mentor text this excerpt would be for students.  Following the advice from THE RULE OF THREE (BECAUSE THREE BECOMES A THING), which states, “Three makes it a ‘thing’. Three (or more) similar texts allow students to answer the question, “What do you notice about the way these texts are written?” and find commonalities across the samples.  Groupings of texts widen the opportunities for writers to look at the text and ask themselves what elements they might like to incorporate into their own writing.  So, I asked myself where else I have seen this strategy used, and I remembered the following two pieces:

Excerpt from Hunger by Roxanne Gay: “The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover, with me standing in one leg of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation. I don’t have any powerful insight into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

Excerpt from An Open Letter to Those Who Want to Liberate Me From Wearing My Hijab by Amira B. Kunbargi: “I don’t need your life jacket. I am not drowning in dogmatism or ideological idiocy. Nor am I prisoner to a patriarchal rampart. I am not brainwashed, backward, or bound. You don’t need to rescue me so stop trying to save me. I don’t need saving. What I need is respect.”

Studying craft in a variety of genres (in this case fiction, memoir, open letter) allows students to see how craft moves work across genres and helps them envision where, when, and for what purpose they may use the craft move being studied. For more ideas on studying craft in your writing workshop, check out the Craft Studio section of Margin Notes.

Try This Tomorrow: How Sure Are You? (Uncertain to Certain Line)

Oct
20

Research shows that students already know up to 40% of what we teach them.

Let’s sit with that fact for a minute…40%.

To me? That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of time we don’t have to waste! 

So, it is really important that we take time figuring out a way to determine what our students already know, before we teach it to them anyway. 

In the book “Developing Assessment -Capable Visible Learners: Grades K-12” by Douglas Fisher,  Nancy Frey and John Hattie, they describe many wonderful activities to help us create assessment capable learners. One of my favourites is the “How Sure Are You?” strategy.  

 

 

Here is the strategy in a nutshell:

  1. You draw a line on the white board like this:

2. Then, depending on what you are introducing, you give the students a term, question, or statement to define or answer on a post-it note.

3. Then you ask “How Sure Are You?” and have students place their post-its on the line. Here are some grade 6 students answering the question “What is poetry?” and putting their post-it notes on the line.

This is what it looked like when they had placed their answers.

You can see they are all over the place! Some students were certain, some uncertain and some in the middle.

Important information gleaned from this 5 minute activity:

  • Most students said something to the effect of “poetry has to rhyme”.
  • The majority of the students were uncertain or thought their answer was probable.
  • Some of the students who were certain, really weren’t!

I gleaned all that just from reading their post-it notes quickly as students were transitioning to the reading corner.

Later that day, the LA teacher and I debriefed and decided to focus on poetry mentor texts the next day. I brought in a crate full of poetry books and we had the students read widely. They wrote down what they noticed about the poems. Then, we co-constructed a list as a class.

Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Can tell a story
  • Is descriptive
  • Can be emotional
  • Poetry has a form
  • Can be written in shapes
  • Does not need punctuation
  • Rhymes (or doesn’t)

 

 

Without doing this quick check-in activity, we wouldn’t have known what the students’ confusions and misunderstandings were about poetry.

Try it tomorrow!

The MENTOR TEXT AND BOOK TALK COMBO

Oct
14

“Teachers who are engaged readers do a better job of engaging students as readers. According to Morrison, Jacobs, and Swinyard (1999), ‘perhaps the most influential teacher behavior to influence students’ literacy development is personal reading, both in and out of school’ (p. 81).” Preparing Teachers with Knowledge of Children’s and Young Adult Literature, NCTE, 2018).

When we read and bring our reading lives into the classroom, our students benefit. Our experiences as readers help us develop literacy curricula that is responsive and authentic, and they help us develop a shared language for reader-to-reader conversations. Our personal and professional literacy lives provide us with the insider knowledge we need to support our students on their own journeys of developing and growing as readers, writers, communicators, listeners, thinkers, and citizens.

One of the simplest ways to make our reading lives visible to students is with the mentor text and book talk combo.

In What you Know by Heart, Katie Wood Ray describes what it means to read like a teacher of writing:

“Every time we see writing, we are seeing what we teach. We are seeing examples of what’s possible in writing, and so we have to read the texts we encounter across our lives differently than other people. We read these texts like teachers of writing. We are on the lookout for interesting ways to approach the writing, interesting ways to craft sentences and paragraphs and whole texts, interesting ways to bring characters to life or make time move or get a point across. When we read, we are always on the lookout—whether we intend to be or not—for interesting things we might teacher our students how to do.”

Reading in this way is a habit of mind for us as literacy teachers; we read everything with our eyes open for mentor text possibilities.

When we share these mentor texts with students in mini-lessons, writing conferences, inquiry units into genre or form, or quickwrites, we can incorporate a quick book talk or description of our how we came across the text and give students a glimpse into our life as a reader.

A few years ago, I started collecting these mentor possibilities in my writer’s notebook. This reading ritual has helped me developed the skill of reading like a teacher of writing and it provides an artifact of my reading life that I can show students when I share my notebook:

Combining book talks with mentor texts is a quick and easy strategy for sharing your reading life with students that you can try tomorrow.