writing

Student Self-Assessment, Scaffolding, and Seesaw

Now that Seesaw is Chromebook friendly, I am incorporating it as a digital portfolio and space for reflection/self-assessment with my 8th graders.   Earlier in the school year, I walked students through signing up with their class code through their district Google accounts.  For our first entry in October, students captured and recorded their reflections on their best Quickwrite for Writing Cycle 2.

This year I have implemented a modified version of Sarah Donovan’s interpretation of Quickwrites.  Some days they truly are brief pieces of writing, but other days, they may be a little more structured and time-intensive.  I try to provide students choices with prompts and various types of writing purposes (argumentative, analytical, informational, descriptive) to grow their writing skills and to infuse meaningful opportunities to compose constructed responses.  A writing cycle may be anywhere from 4-7 weeks; sometimes the cycle stretches a bit longer because our literacy block is only about 50 minutes per day, and it is sometimes challenging to incorporate as many writing opportunities as I’d like.

We first focused on organizing our four Quickwrites and then writing a reflection about how that piece of writing showed growth in some way.  I crafted “I can” statements based on the writing and/or reading standards embedded in each Quickwrite:

Once students selected their best Quickwrite, they received a copy of the “I can” standards statements for that particular Quickwrite.  Next, I scaffolded their reflection by providing them a drafting template/graphic organizer model because students need support in articulating how they are growing as writers, especially if they are not accustomed to engaging in self-assessment.

Students composed their reflection drafts and then shared their written or typed drafts with me.  Once I checked their completed drafts, students were “cleared” to photograph or video their work and then record the reflection.  Students could capture their work in one of three ways in Seesaw:

  1.  Snap a photo of your best Quickwrite (the actual piece of writing) and record an audio note of their reflection “script” they composed with the drafting template.
  2. Video the work and read aloud the reflection script.
  3. Upload the typed copy of the best Quickwrite draft from Google Docs and then record the audio note of the reflection.

I modeled these processes for students and also provided a Google Slideshow for students to use for reference outside of class:

It took us about four days of class time to complete all of our work; a few students were given extended time if needed.  Students who wanted to use their phones and had parent permission to install the free app were allowed to use their devices if they preferred that method over a Chromebook; about 25% of my students chose this option.

2019-11-13//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I do think it is easier for students to use their smartphones with Seesaw, but the Chromebook option is still a good option.  Our biggest challenge was getting good photographs of their work with the Chromebook if students wanted to use that option with an audio note.  Aside from that issue, the Chromebooks were great for recording and for students who wanted to incorporate text labels and some of the other features students can use in Seesaw when posting their work.  As I’ve shared in the past, I love Seesaw as a formative and summative assessment platform, and there is something very powerful about hearing students discuss their work.  In addition, Seesaw is yet another way for students to practice their speaking skills.

I’ll continue to share how we are using Seesaw as we move through the school year.  If you are using Seesaw in your classroom, how do you incorporate into your instruction and assessment practices?

Supporting Writers in Progress: Paired Texts Study, Comparing/Contrasting, and Literary Argument Paragraphs

Earlier this month, we composed our first literary argument paragraph, a stepping stone to an extended piece of writing we’ll do in early November as part of our work from the writing unit, The Literary Essay:  Analyzing Craft and Theme.

Part 1:  Introducing and Immersing Ourselves in a Paired Text

Let me start by backing up into late September.  We had just finished our study of “Thank You Ma’m” and took a day to read/listen to “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye, a great paired text companion to this short story.  We began by reading the poem together and took a second pass at reading it by listening to Nye read it herself.  For the first reading, I simply asked students to listen; on the second reading, I asked students to complete these tasks as we listened and read:

  • Read along as we listen.
  • Circle any words that get your attention as being descriptive or vivid or unusual.
  • Continue to think about the mood of the poem and the words that create that mood or feeling.

We then reviewed our annotation strategies notes from Cris Tovani and Beers/Probst.

Next, we listened to Nye tell us a little of the backstory about the poem.  I then asked students to complete three high quality annotations of the poem, showing them an annotated model I had completed for another poem to help them.  Once students had time to re-read and complete three annotations, I asked them to choose his/her best annotation.  We then used the whole group share structure “Everyone Up!“; students were asked to share his/her best annotation and the passage he/she annotated.  Finally, we completed our thinking with a reflection Ticket Out the Door (see last photo below).

Part 2:  Comparing/Contrasting the Paired Texts

Our next step was to compare and contrast “Thank You Ma’m” and “Kindness” using this marvelous graphic organizer from Stacy Lloyd.  I actually modified it a bit to help my students cover all the bases with their thinking points and included some scaffolding at their table to help them remember the terminology.  It took most students two days to complete this thinking task.

Part 3: Drafting the Literary Argument Paragraph

Our culminating activity that is a stepping stone to an essay we’ll do in about two weeks was composing a literary argument paragraph.  After students completed the compare/contrast activity, we reviewed the writing task 1:1, and I asked students to choose the claim statement he/she felt he/she could best argue.

Students received plenty of scaffolding to help them draft their paragraph; I provided highlighters to help them color code each piece of their draft.

I placed plenty of these at every table in my neon sheet protectors to help students as they drafted.

For those who needed even more scaffolding, I put together a graphic organizer to help them see each piece of the paragraph as they composed and highlighted.

The result was some of the best writing my students have completed so far this year.  As they completed their drafts, we conferenced, and it was so heartwarming to see their confidence in themselves and pride in their work!

 

These learning activities pushed my students’ thinking, and the culminating paragraph was a big step forward for my 8th grade writers.  How do you support higher level thinking and writing tasks?

Digging into Dialogue Writing Skills—Exploring Dialogue Tags

Earlier this month, I used resources from the beloved late Dr. Rozlyn Linder to help my students inquire into noticings about the purposes and patterns of dialogue tags.  I crafted a guided study lesson and resources from her book, The Big Book of Details: 46 Moves for Teaching Writers to Elaborate, to help us explore beginning, ending, middle, and invisible tags for our first major assignment, an extended narrative writing task (more about this task in my next blog post).

Learning Targets

We started with this guided mini-lesson that I adapted from Dr. Linder’s book:

For Part 1, students wrote their responses, and then we did a whole class share out; I recorded the responses for each class and then compiled them into a master document for students to keep in their notebooks in a sheet protector (I provide those to students).

We also explored how repeating “said” or any variant of it deadens our writing instead of bringing it to life.  Students received a list of synonyms to keep handy in their binders for reference.

We then delved into reviewing each type of dialogue tag, recording and discussing our notices about when we might use each type of tag, punctuation, and capitalization; students were asked to circle their noticings and jot down notes.

Then, depending on the class section and their needs as learners, we did one or more of the following activities over 2.5 class days:

Over the next few days, I crafted assorted warm-up activities for the beginning of class to reinforce and review those rules of punctuation and capitalization for students.  In addition, students took an open-note quiz in Canvas over punctuating and capitalization different types of dialogue tags.  Last but not least, I provided additional practice for mastery with a free module in NoRedInk.

Note:  to view these documents properly, you will need these free fonts:

While these learning structures were a solid entry point for students, they needed and continued to need reinforcement and practice as they crafted their own original dialogue tags in their extended narrative assignment.  Placement of punctuation and remembering to punctuate the dialogue as well as the dialogue tags at all have been our two major areas of struggle.  After seeing these struggles, I am confident that students’ difficulty in punctuating dialogue correctly is where many of them are losing points on our state Milestones test we take each spring, particularly with the extended narrative writing task, a writing task that is worth 4 points:

On the ELA EOG assessment, an extended constructed-response item elicits a longer, more complex and detailed response from the student. The four-point narrative extended constructed-response item requires the student to write a narrative in response to a prompt based on a literary or informational passage he or she has read;
the response will fully develop a real or imagined experience based on the text and will be scored for the Writing and Language domain.

Source:  Georgia Grade 8 EOG Item and Scoring Sampler 

A student who achieves a score of 4 demonstrates these skills on an extended narrative writing task:

  • The student’s response is a well-developed narrative that fully develops a real or imagined experience based on text as a stimulus.
  • Effectively establishes a situation and a point of view and introduces a narrator and/or characters.
  • Organizes an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Effectively uses narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, pacing, and reflection, to develop rich, interesting experiences, events, and/or characters.
  • Uses a variety of words and phrases consistently and effectively to convey the sequence of events, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.
  • Uses precise words, phrases, and sensory language to convey experiences and events and capture the action.
  • Provides a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
  • Integrates ideas and details from source material effectively.
  • Has very few or no errors in usage and/or conventions that interfere with meaning.

Even though our focus is on composing strong dialogue, this standard 8W3 goes hand in hand with a distinguished (highest level) of achievement in Standard RL3:

Analyzes and evaluates the effectiveness of an author’s use of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama to propel the action, reveal complex aspects of the character, or provoke a decision.

Source:  Georgia Milestones Assessment System Achievement Level Descriptors for Grade 8 English Language Arts

In my next post, I’ll share more about our extended narrative writing assignment and how we are working through our drafting and revision endeavors.  How do you teach the importance of dialogue to your students?  What are your best strategies for helping them understand the rules of punctuating and capitalizing dialogue and dialogue tags appropriately?

New Year, New Semester: The One Word Project as Our Compass

Many teachers like to begin the school year or a new semester with a One Word reflection and/or art project to help students choose a focal point for their academic and personal lives.  I decided to kick off the new semester and new year earlier this month with our own variation on a One Word project.

We began with this reflection tool; students warmed up their thinking by responding to the first three questions.  We then talked about how reflection can hep us think about where we’ve been and where we want to go as learners and as individuals.

Next, we watched this short video to frame the “One Word” concept:

I then asked students to think about what might be one word that would represent the kind of learner and person they aspired to be in their school and home lives.  In our Canvas learning management system, I posted this list of words to help students who might be struggling to think of word choices.  Students used the second half of the reflection tool to brainstorm ten words; once students had generated ten words, they selected their top choice.

Once students selected their one word, they began writing a paragraph reflection using the guidelines, model paragraph, and writing checklist I posted in the assignment section of Canvas.  Students composed in Google Docs and then submitted their written reflection in Canvas.

We worked on thinking piece and composing our paragraphs for about three days in the computer lab and with our classroom Chromebooks.

I was impressed by the thought and depth of reflection many students, especially those in my 6th period, put into their paragraphs.  Many students really invested themselves both intellectually and emotionally in their word choices.  I definitely recommend frontloading this activity with the word selection piece and the written reflection before beginning the artwork.

Once students finished their written reflection, they could browse design ideas for inspiration to create their artistic representation of their one word.  I collected some examples from the web, but I primarily used examples in the slideshow from my fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree and her 8th grade students.  After browsing some ideas on TPT, my requirements for the art piece included:

  • The one word should be crafted in a bold and prominent way on your paper.
  • You should repeat the word or a phrase of significance to you with the word in smaller paper.
  • Thoughtful use of color, hand-crafted fonts, and images should be used to enhance the message you want to convey about the importance of this one word to you.

I provided paper, colored pencils, markers, and rulers for students to use; most needed at least two class periods to craft their work.  Below is a gallery of their creations:

We now have our one word gallery going up in the front of the room so our words are there to help us stay the course on our aspirations and to serve as a compass.  How have you used a one word project in your classroom?

 

Active Learning and Thinking: Walk and Talk Partner Discussions

Right after the first of the year, one of my favorite teachers and literacy leaders, Sarah Brown Wessling, posted this video about taking her class on the move.  Last year, I crafted and incorporated many learning activities for my high school students that involved movement, and I’ve continued that with my 8th graders during the 2018-2019 school year.  After watching that video, I decided I wanted to try the partner “walk and talk” discussion strategy soon.

Part 1:  Frontloading the Work with Individual Self-Assessment and Reflection

Flash forward to this past Friday.  On Wednesday and Thursday, my 8th graders received a copy of their December Quarter 2 benchmark essay, a writing task that asked them to read two articles and write an expository/informational/explanatory essay in response to the two articles.  We began on Wednesday with the following warm-up:

Nearly every student chose the correct answer, D, but many struggled to actually do that on the benchmark assessment even though we had deconstructed a model essay similar to the benchmark writing task prior to the benchmark assessment and engaged in several hands-on activities to review how to respond to that type of writing assessment and prompt.  In each class, we explored the reasons for the disconnect between understanding the prompt and actually executing it.  We spent the rest of the class on Wednesday and all of Thursday engaging in some self-assessment and reflection to analyze their strengths and weaknesses in their essay response:

As students completed the first reflection, they came to me for a quick 1:1 conference about their reflection work before moving on to the additional reflection activities.  All of these became part of their literacy portfolio along with the copy of their benchmark essay.  In addition, we spent the last 10 minutes of class on Thursday adding some additional pieces of student work and reflections they completed prior to the December break to the portfolio as well as an updated Lexile/SRI reading progress report.

Part 2:  From Individual Work to Collaborative Work and Discussion

On Friday, every table group arrived to find a pastel folder with a set of 2-3 student benchmark writing/essays in the folder.  All identifying information was stripped from each piece of writing and assigned a number; I also ran copies of these pieces of writing on different colors of neon paper by table or “station” group.

I did several variations of the table/station work for this blind peer review of essays.  My main goal for this activity was for students to read a range of writing from their peers and to apply the self-assessment criteria we had used for our own writing earlier in the week to these pieces of writing.  For my 1st period team taught class, students were asked to read the essays/writing pieces in the folder at their table and then use this evaluation tool to assess the writing.  For my 4th period class, students read the pieces of writing individually but to evaluate the writing collaboratively.  For both classes, table groups then voted on the best piece of writing and explained what made it the best one at their station/table group.

The activity generated great conversation within the table groups as they analyzed and shared their reflections to come to a consensus on the best pieces of writing.  It was interesting to hear students debate “top” writing choices at some of the table groups and to hear them make their case for those choices using the writing/rubric criteria.  This aspect of the activity generated the most critical thinking, and I think students benefited from it as well as the act of reading work from their peers and seeing that range of quality in the writing.

Between 4th period and my final classes (Period 5 and 6), we have a break in the day known as “War Time” (we are the War Eagles).  This is a recess period, but we also have make-up time for different subject areas each day as well as detention for students who may be struggling with points on our discipline system in our building.  As we were standing outside on Friday during War Time, I was struck by how mild the weather was (mid 50s) and what beautiful weather it was for January and better than what was forecasted for the day.  I also was pondering the fact that it was Friday afternoon and wondered if I might do yet another variation on the station activity for my final two classes of the day.  It hit me that this would be the perfect opportunity to do a partner walk and talk, but instead of staying inside the building, we would GO OUTSIDE!

When we returned indoors to begin 5th period, I asked my students if they would like a chance to go back outside  Of course, 8th graders love being outdoors and enthusiastically responded YES.  I explained to them we could do the 2nd half of class outdoors but if and only if everyone was laser focused on the first half of our indoor time work.  Talk about the ultimate carrot!  I explained they were going to read the essays and complete the evaluation sheet.  If they finished early, they could begin the “blue ribbon” best of essays reflection.  I set the countdown time clock to 20 minutes on my computer and projected it on the board, and they began.  Everyone was super focused and working intently.  Once time was up, I instructed students they would need all their evaluation forms, including the blue ribbon reflection even if it was not quite finished; they were also instructed to take their neon colored essay handout with them outside.  I repeated the same instructions and procedures for 6th, and they also jumped right into their work.

 

Once outside, they were directed to find a partner; it could be anyone but someone from their table group!  They quickly found partners, and I lined them up two by two.  I explained that the partner on the left would speak first as they walked and talked.  Our partner talk instructions were these:

  1.  Explain the rubric you completed for each essay you read and evaluated.
  2.  You may point at specific parts of the essay on the neon paper as you talk through the evaluation you completed in addition to anything else you feel is important for your partner to know about that piece of writing.
  3. Talk through your “blue ribbon” reflection even if not quite finished because you can talk through the unfinished parts verbally if needed.
  4. Your partner can ask questions and for clarifications as needed at any time.

Once the partner on the left completed these talking and sharing tasks, the partner on the right would then become the lead in the discussion.  I let them know I would be walking along side and moving about to make mental notes and video notes with my iPhone, so all conversation needed to be on point.  Once we had finished our first round, we swapped partners and did a second round of conversation.  Each round of conversation took about 1.5 to 2 laps around our grassy area in front of the school we have War Time.  My 5th period started and finished strong!

 


Sixth period did a fabulous job with the partner walk and talk as well though we did have to pause after the first 90 seconds to redirect and make sure everyone understood our purpose and instructions.  Once we did that quick “reset”, my 6th period students were on fire with their thinking and sharing as walked along and discussed our work.

We returned inside after about 15-20 minutes outside, and students had the chance to finish up any written work or to add to before turning in all their written components.  Students commented and shared in their written reflections they enjoyed talking with a partner from another group about the essays they read; several commented this activity also forced them to work with someone they normally would not choose, and they enjoyed that aspect of the activity!

I was so impressed with the quality of discussions from my students in both classes!  Everyone stepped up and really put themselves into the conversations.  Though the elements of being outdoors and movement could have been distracting, I think they actually enhanced the conversation and discussion experience for each round of partner walk and talk.   I hope we will have some milder days ahead in the mornings so that I can give my 1st and 4th periods this kind of learning experience soon though we could certainly adapt and do it indoors in the hallways.  I definitely recommend this activity for any teacher, and you can easily adapt it for any subject area and age group.  This by far was one of my favorite activities I’ve ever done with students and so much fun!

A heartfelt thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling, a master teacher, for so generously sharing her experiences and ideas from the trenches of real world teaching in a public school!  In addition to the links I shared earlier to her Facebook page as well as her website, you can also learn more about her over here at the Teaching Channel and see more videos of her in action.