Rebekah O’Dell

From Notebook Time to Student Talk and Share: It’s Easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3

Many of us like to incorporate share time for students to share what they are thinking and writing during notebook time.   I’ve shared some ways I encourage students to speak up or interact during this share time because I have found most are reluctant to do so.  Another strategy that is easy to do is what I call ABC partners.  If you are providing a structured or guided prompt, simply break into three logical sub-prompts. As students write, I quietly walk around and give them a ticket that says, A, B, or C.  When writing/thinking time has ended, you can either instruct students to find a partner with the same letter or you could even form small groups by letter.

Today my seniors were asked to read two short articles on ways language evolves (article 1 and article 2).   This prompt was designed to activate/frontload some thinking prior to work they’ll do next week to explore the time period background for our first unit of literature study of British literature.  After roughly 20 minutes of time to read, reflect, and write, students found “like” partners by letter (again, A, B, or C).  They then worked together to talk, discuss, and craft a collaborate response to these questions around their assigned letter prompt:

I provided students chart paper and markers; they could create their responses in any way they wanted to organize their ideas.  After talking and writing for about 20 minutes, each pair of students then did an informal, low-stakes share out.  The questions they generated will now become questions they can explore as move into our first unit of British literature.

  • Why does it take longer for written language to evolve than spoken language?
  • Will people in the future think we talked in a weird or strange way (just as Old or Middle English sounds to us)?
  • What words might be most likely to change or evolve in the future?
  • How will changes in society, culture, and technology influence the way language evolves?
  • How exactly do languages form and begin?
  • How have other languages influenced the English language over time?
  • What kinds of words are most likely to stand the test of time?

I have been more intentional this year about finding ways to mix up share time and strategies for getting students talking about their ideas and responses from notebook time prompts.  Cris Tovani, author of No More Telling as Teaching, has influenced this professional effort to elevate student talk in meaningful and authentic ways.

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Deconstructing Mentor Texts for Our Own Writing: Research-Based Informational Writing In the Wild

My seniors have completed their research on their self-selected topics related to the Future of Work (see blog for previous posts); we have gone deep with our inquiry work as we have worked on this for the most part of the first nine weeks of the semester while sprinkling in some other writing studies and work before we shift gears to literature study at the end of the month.  Last Friday, I organized students into eight “Think Tanks” and gave them the following materials in a folder:

  • An informational article (I pulled from a variety of sources); you can message me if you’d like a copy of the text set.
  • A copy of Kelly Gallagher’s chart of purposes for writing
  • A sample of a kernel essay with the markups from Gretchen Bernabei’s Text Structures from the Masters.
  • A handout outlining effective leads for expository essays from Essay Writing Made Easy.

Inspired by Writing with Mentors How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts by Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti, various posts over at their Moving Writers blog, and some personal Tweets from Rebekah, I gathered a series of eight mentor texts that I felt were good examples of research based informational writing “in the wild” or from the real world.  I wanted my students to have some models of how we might break out of the traditional five paragraph essay structure to compose and share their research findings.  Deconstructing and completing “noticings” about mentor texts is still a relatively new experience for my seniors, so I provided some scaffolding to help them organize their thinking and to create a poster to share out with the class:

We reviewed the instructions and some options for how groups or “think tanks” could go about their collaborative inquiry work.  Then I turned the groups loose to begin their deconstruction of the informational texts.  I walked about the room observing, answering questions, and supporting anyone who seemed to be struggling.  We worked roughly 35-40 minutes before it the class period ended, so we continued our work taking about 45 minutes to finish our endeavor.

We then reviewed procedures for sharing our posters as well as ways to show love and support as listeners.  Students also received a graphic organizer to take notes or capture “take away” ideas from each group poster session (see Gallery Walk Poster Share Notetaking Sheet 12th ELA for Deconstructing Informational Essays October 2017 ).  As each group presented, I reflected back what I heard and asked clarifying questions as needed; students could also ask the presenters for clarification or to repeat anything they needed to hear again.  The period flew by, and all groups finished but one, so our final group will start us off on Friday.  Once we finish, students will then complete a self-assessment of themselves and their group (see Poster Presentation Self Assessment Informational Text in the Wild Noticings) before beginning to develop a writing plan.  We’ll collaborate as we begin to draft the pieces of our essay, so stay tuned for more on that approach to our writing process!

It was interesting to see how each group worked together in terms of how they attacked the activity as well as the interaction (or challenges with working together).  Groups that communicated clearly and did the annotating/marking up “a la Gretchen Bernabei” style were the ones whose posters were the strongest finish product in terms of content depth and completeness.  Overall, I am very happy with the design of the learning experience and how my students handled this because it was definitely a challenging learning activity.  They have demonstrated growth since the beginning of August and took on this challenge in a way that they could not have done only nine weeks ago.  I am also excited that their work can now serve as anchor work to showcase in the classroom.

How do you support students in engaging in noticings about mentor texts?  I would love to hear your ideas!