Celebrate This Week: Personal Process and Paths

celebrate link up

Every weekend I show up here to celebrate and reflect on the week. Thank you Ruth Ayers for creating the space to share with others who do the same. Taking the time to stop and reflect matters. Reading the reflections of others on similar journeys bolsters and instigates more reflection. Thanks to all who share their celebrations.  You add to mine.

We spent some messy and difficult moments this week trying to figure out how to build sound arguments. Connecting and sorting ideas and evidence can be confusing and frustrating. We worked hard at looking at it one way and then another. Pieces are coming together at different rates.  All are trying to clear a road that is their own. Here’s one: an improved version of my teaching.

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And another quite different journey to understanding.

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And  others struggle to clear a way, to make sense of the evidence, to prove what they believe.

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I celebrate my students’ persistence. Their willingness to work alongside me, to find a way in this work. I celebrate post-its, highlighters and my iPhone camera. These tools allow us to sort, select, and reexamine. I celebrate my students’ ability to change their direction and have courage to make their own path.

This week I celebrate writing and reading that is personal and sometimes buried deep; protected in a place where no one sees. My last conference on Friday was with a reluctant writer and reader. I asked him what was good about writing. He said, after a very long pause, poetry.  Wow I had no idea. I asked him what was his favorite book ever. He shrugged and mentioned Smile and Sisters. Hmm. Poetry and graphic novels. I used to hesitate giving students novels in verse. I thought students just zip through them with little understanding. But this tweet made me reconsider the entire genre and its possibility.

2Q==Of course. It’s easy entry. Few words on a page. A gentle way to pull at the reader in bits that don’t tire. Words on the page that can be taken in deeply providing space and energy to do so.

We’ve been reading Locomotion, So, I asked. Do you like our shared reading work? His eyes lit up. Bingo. The world of novels in verse and my current read (on the right) came to mind. Maybe this is a path for him.

 

Paths to learning and growth are personal. There is no one way, no magic ticket. I’m lucky I have the opportunity to venture down different roads with students and teachers everyday. Here are some paths I wandered down this morning: writing from Elizabeth, reading from Nora, homework from Pernille; and book love from Carrie.

Happy weekend!

Engagement, Practice, Passion and Literacy Learning

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Check this out: Vicki Vinton and Cornelius Minor in the same building.  The ESC South of LAUSD, brought these great educators to us — wow — what an opportunity –what a choice!

Vicki led the high school folks in reading, while Cornelius worked with elementary and middle school teachers on writing.

My notebook and brain is brimming with rich thinking and new teaching approaches Cornelius brought to life. As a side note, he has enough energy and passion to light a couple of stadiums.

Here are a just a few of my takeaways.

Mastery comes from practice. Our goal as teachers is to develop the emotional, social and intellectual energy so there is desire to practice.  Practice only happens when we are engaged enough to try, fail, and try it again.

My job is to create the conditions for practice.  The need for engagement must color all teaching moves.

I imagine my students’ passion for video games. Time doesn’t exist for them when they are gaming. Engagement goes on and on. They try and try, again and again. Through that practice they master the game and seek out more challenging experiences.

While writing and reading might not be video gaming, I need to remember this engagement can happen for my students and shoot for it. This is where learning happens. It’s my job to work toward it. Build it.

The average American has an attention span of seven minutes. With fatigue, attention span decreases.

I realize I need to look closely across our day; to reconsider my expectations and look at the realities.  I need to notice it, measure it, address it. Think stamina. Think engagement. Always be aware of it and adjust for it. Stop the work before students disengage.

Essay writing is about thinking first. Teaching students to develop ideas and claims, reasons from evidence found in text comes first. Structure matters but it is not the first or second or even third teaching point.  Moving students through a journey of thought about a text or subject is the bigger goal. Structure matters, it just shouldn’t be served up as a first move potentially preempting the harder thinking work.

Working with evidence to support a claim and develop a reason for the claim has befuddled my students, and my grasp on a good teaching pathway was weak.

Cornelius clarified my thinking and approach.

  • The claim is a belief.
  • The evidence is anything quoted or paraphrased from a text.
  • The reason, or analysis, is the intersection of the two.

To develop this kind of thinking, consider “drill” work. Present a claim and a piece of evidence. Then ask students to find a reason that might connect the two.

Claim

It isn’t as easy as it might sound.  Here’s one I tried.

Claim: Beyonce is a positive role model for women.

Evidence: In 2014, she became the highest-paid black musician in history.

Think: What might be the reason that links the evidence to the claim? How or why does this evidence support the claim?

Reason: Through hard work and talent, Beyonce has achieved great financial success.

Great thinking “drill” work to try, practice again and again on various claims and pieces of evidence, so when students go to writing, their analytical muscles are a bit more developed and can play the “game” with more skill.

Use the TCRWP student checklists with on demand writing. The new checklists with pictures and kid-friendly language are powerful tools that can direct students toward self assessment. That’s a win win. They see it. They set goals for the next step. You can find them in the new Writing Pathways book.9780325057309

But, I have shied away from using them with students’ first piece, their pre- (before any instruction) on demand work. Why? I didn’t want them defeated before we even start the unit. Cornelius offered a simple (why-didn’t-I-think-of-that) solution. Use the grade level checklist that matches the work the student is “starting to” be successful in. White out the grade level and bam! The checklists look so similar it won’t be obvious one 5th grader is looking at the 3rd grade checklist while another is working on the 5th grade one. We do this accommodating in reading with just right texts. With a little white out, here is the tool for just right writing work.

Writing matters because it gives us tools to handle struggle. We all have experiences. We all have been and get broken. Writing gives students possibilities and power. Writing gives students tools to handle the struggle. Giving students that power, to work through their struggle and rise, matters well beyond any common core expectations.

At the end of the day, educators were begging for more. Every minute on Saturday was valuable. Side conversations did not exist. No one missed a minute of this powerful PD instruction. I left with renewed energy and purpose for the writing work I’m imagining my students will move towards.

 

 

 

 

Slice of Life Day 10: Messy Charts Surround Me and Questions Surface

For the month of March, I am writing in the Slice of Life Challenge. Hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Find more slices here. Today’s slice is a slice of classroom life.
11454297503_e27946e4ff_hCharts surround me. They threaten to take over my classroom. Kind of like clothes.  Some get used more than others. They wear out, don’t fit,  or no longer serve a purpose, so they are put away or recycled. Most are made with students.  It’s pretty messy. The ones you see in these shots are for opinion writing.

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On Thursday, teams of students worked on pulling evidence for the reason they were trying to prove. The charts hold their thinking and are now displayed for review and use. This is sort of note taking blown up. The interesting thing is not so much the charts themselves, but how students use them.

Students crowd around the one they are interested in, reading and jotting in their notebooks.

“Mrs. Harmatz come look at this. This evidence doesn’t prove that reason. It goes with another reason,” one student tells me.

“Interesting. Well then don’t use it,” I told him.

“Should I cross it off?”

“Note your thinking on the chart, ” I tell him.

After this conversation, I made his observation a mid workshop stop and notice moment, “Check out this thinking,” I announce. “M. questioned the data. He didn’t just take it at face value. He asked himself, if it made sense.  Did it fit. Bravo! Standing ovation for thinking and questioning.”

He took a bow.  And he became a bit of an expert on questioning the evidence.  A super cool job, one he enjoyed for the day.

Even if the writing falls short, the steps toward questioning and thinking that have gone into these charts represents big moves towards understanding argument. And for a moment I’m pretty pleased with it.

Later I look at the smattering of charts, the messiness that surrounds me, and I wonder if students will hold on to what we did here. Will they be able to recreate it?. Do they see what we are trying to do here? Tomorrow these charts come down. They’ve served their purpose for now. I’ll set them aside for later. Hopefully when we reach this moment in the next argument piece, a quick review will trigger the thinking they did today.

It’s complicated. When it gets too confusing, we slow down and work it through. In this messy process, if all goes well, questioning happens and along with that,  I hope mini steps toward learning happen too.

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