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Snapshot: 10/20/19

Let’s Examine Our Thoughts on Students in Poverty

In preparing for a section of a training session on the provision of culturally responsive education, a brief writing activity is planned to generate relevance for our adult learners, all of whom are in the education field, whether as central office/building administrators, general ed teachers, or special ed teachers. This section is focused on students living in poverty, an area not often considered in and of itself when examining school culture and climate.

It will be important to establish norms for t he day’s training and to remind the group of them before each core activity and sharing of views as it may be uncomfortable for learners due to personal experiences, beliefs and values.

The following writing prompt will be presented to the group and indicate that they will be sharing their responses with others in the room:

“This is a fact: Students who families are living in poverty do not perform on average as well in school as wealthier students. Perhaps it is unpopular to say, but if we’re committed to educational equity for low-income families, we must acknowledge this reality.” (Gorski, 2016)

In your response, consider these questions:

  1. Why do students whose families are experiencing poverty do not do as well in schools as their wealthier peers?
  2. What factors do you believe are involved in this disparity in educational outcomes for students form low-income situations?

After the learners have completed their responses, have them:

  1. share with a table partner
  2. share with someone at another table that they do not know
  3. return to their seats
  4. Facilitator will seek volunteers to share their insights on the writing prompt.
  5. This will generate large group discussion before getting into the content of this section of the workshop.

A link to an article that will be used to drive this section of the training session: Re-examining Beliefs About Students in Poverty. It is by Paul Gorksi and was published in the May 2016 edition of School Administration. Dr. Gorski is the founder of EdChange, the Equity Literacy Institute and a college professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University. Additional activities are to be used with the article such as Lifting of Text.

From the Classroom: An Approach to Summer Reading that Celebrates Rather Than Assesses Reading

For over a decade I began the school year by administering a multiple choice test to my students on their summer reading. And for over a decade I questioned this practice as I entered dismal test scores. The testing was not reflective of my classroom practices, did not accurately measure whether students actually completed their reading (some adept test-takers could pass after only studying the SparkNotes version of the novel while other less-skilled testers would bomb despite reading and annotating the entire book), and worst of all it only solidified a distaste for reading rather than encouraging the habit of reading.

After many years of questioning this practice, my colleagues and I were finally able to pilot a new approach. While designing our new plan, we kept circling back to the essential question: what is the goal of a summer reading assignment? Keeping in mind that we ultimately want students to use it as an opportunity to continue to build their reading identities and strengthen their independent reading habits, we realized two elements are key: 1. Choice 2. An evaluation method that celebrates (rather than tests) the reading.

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Wet Paint

Writing prompts to incite sparks to start a writer’s engine is a challenging teacher’s task. Too narrow of a prompt, and the engine remains cold. Too broad of a prompt…and the engine remains cold. 

Recently, I needed a prompt to transition students from writing a personal memoir to writing narrative nonfiction (aka creative nonfiction). In an effort to be clear, I kept the prompt lean: Write a true story as story

Turns out, clarity is contextual. The same prompt can be a springboard for some and an abyss for others. Part of our work is to meet students where they are–adjust the task, the prompt, the context to fit the need.

In my case, mentor texts and discussion clarified the prompt for some. However, narrative nonfiction isn’t fiction conjured up inside our heads. It turns out, tapping into lived experiences or research is only a piece of the process. Yes, we can list and accumulate pieces in our writer’s notebooks; however, converting those experiential fragments or bits of research into a story is challenging! 

Neither my prompt, class discussion nor mentor texts fed into one student’s particular strengths as a writer. Conferring with Jane (pseudonym),  she opened her draft and shared that she gathered a lot of information about Mary Shelly, but she did not know how to convert the information into a story.

In other words, Jane took steps forward under the guidance of the prompt and by reading a couple of books about Mary Shelley, but she still could not convert all of the amassed information into a story, and then THIS happened:

In the middle of conferring, Jane asked, “I made an OC this weekend. Want to see it?”

IMG_3600

“Whats an O.C.?”

“An original character.”

Jane retrieved her private journal–filled with sketches–and explained the O.C., named Autumn. Jane knew a lot about Autumn’s “story” just from a sketch. She has yet to write any words about Autumn.

This moment sparked me to make the decision to revise the prompt for Jane. Until now, I had been trying to adjust Jane’s thinking to work within my prompt, the class discussion, the mentor texts,  rather than adjust the prompt so that it worked for her thinking. So, I asked Jane if I could revise the prompt right inside her Google Doc:

 

What makes Mary Shelley a likable person? What does she do that makes us want to keep watching her, listening to her? Could you bring that to life in a sketch? Could you sketch a scene with Mary in it (and then write it as a story).

 

Jane read as I typed and she nodded with enthusiasm.

“I can do that.”

IMG_3599After ten minutes, I circled back to Jane.

“I drew Mary tough–in boys’ clothes. She’s really tough and has to be to stand up for women’s rights.”

“Could you write a scene? A moment that brings this sketch to life too?”

“I can do that.”

I hadn’t explicitly thought of prompts as fluid or permutable. So often, prompts in education feel fixed and I wonder how much I have contributed to that feeling in my classes. At the very least, today, I am grateful that my mentors (in person and in text) have given me the guidance and confidence to learn to be responsive to the writer while the paint is still wet. And maybe that is the best way, for me, to think of writing prompts–wet paint as opposed to chiseled stone.

 

Prompt-ober: Wire Writing

Happy October and welcome to fall! Since our classroom snapshot feature was so successful last month (thank you to all the contributing voices!), we are running another regular feature this month focused on sharing writing activities that we or our students have found particularly engaging. Please check in daily to enjoy our Prompt-ober posts. If you are interested in contributing one yourself, please contact us!


Wire Writing

Early in the school year I give my students a piece of wire about 8-10 inches long (I purchase this in the bracelet making section of any craft store) and I ask them to shape it into something that is meaningful to them or representative of them. This idea was inspired by a writing activity I engaged in at the PAWLP summer institute where the instructors gave us a piece of playdough and similar instructions. I give my students ample time to play with the wire and shape/reshape until they feel confident in their design. While they do this, I welcome conversation and meander around with my own wire checking in and talking with students.

wire prompt.PNG

When time is up, I invite a quick pair share of shapes before we study and discuss a short mentor text titled “My Life has Been like a Basketball Game.”

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Teacher to Teacher: The Importance of Charts in a Writing Classroom

By Lynne R. Dorfman

When I first read Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades (2013), I was struck by Debbie Miller’s question: “How can we hold thinking—making it both permanent and visible?”  I’ve always been a big fan of anchor charts, using them as visible representations of students’ thinking.  Not only does the collective thinking become permanent and visible, but the charts can also serve many purposes.  Charts help students achieve greater independence by providing the information they may need o plan, draft, revise, and edit their writing.

Naturally, when Melanie asked me if I was interested in being part of her blog tour for her new book, Every Child Can Write, I was thrilled to be able to take a closer look at Chapter 6: Co-Create Classroom Charts as Pathways Toward Independence.  Immediately, I was captured by Melanie’s statement of rationale for using classroom charts, linking their use with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a way of teaching and learning that helps teachers give all students an equal opportunity to succeed.  Yes!  It made perfect sense that charts can remove obstacles to success by building in flexibility in the ways learners can access information.

Melanie opens with an anecdote that describes how she used charts to help her daughter learn to cook, sharing that, as in the gradual release of responsibility model, the more her daughter cooked, the more competent and confident she became.  One day, the cooking charts were taken down.  Cecily had reached her goal.

           Melanie gives us many reasons to use charts:

  • They can actually replace the minilessons for thriving writers.  Melanie book cover
  • Strong writers use them as memory joggers and scaffolds.
  • They provide choices or options student writers may want to try.

These big ideas are explored in this chapter.  First, Melanie tells us we should decide on the types and purposes of the charts we display in our classrooms.  The important thing to remember here is that a chart is a living, breathing tool. It can change and grow as the class thinking evolves.  Always accessible and reflective of the work the students do, it does not need to be “perfect, beautiful, or laminated.”  The important thing is that charts are created as a joint effort of the students and the teacher.  A sense of ownership fosters a sense of commitment and pride in using the information the chart provides.

Chapter 6 explores four types of teacher-created charts: anchor, procedural, strategy, and inquiry.  Meehan defines anchor charts as instructional tools that provide the overall skills necessary to complete a task.  One use of this type of chart is to reflect the expectations for the overall tasks of each genre of writing.

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