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Posts from the ‘Tools of the Trade’ Category

Tools of the Trade: Summer Reading

by Kelly Virgin

In a recent blog post titled A Letter to Teachers as Summer Begins, Kylene Beers writes, “I hope you each find time this summer to walk some, nap some, and read some. Actually, I hope you read a lot. Read something – lots of somethings – for pure escape, and read lots of things to learn a lot.”

If you are anything like me, you have a mountain of unread somethings that you have earnestly accumulated throughout the school year with every intention but no time to read. A few of the books in my pile that will be going home with me this summer include Mentor Texts, Second Edition, Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. With these books in hand, I hope to learn and grow as a teacher of writing, a teacher of reading, and a teacher of students living in the real world.

Mentor Texts 2nd Edition.jpgSomething on Writing: Mentor Texts

When the first edition of Mentor Texts came out ten years ago, it completely changed the way I approached writing instruction in my highschool classroom. I went from separating reading and writing instruction, to seamlessly blending the two. The result of this “aha” transformation in my teaching was immediate and inspiring. Not only did my students start to recognize a clear connection between the literature we read and the writing we crafted, they also started to explore and experiment with their writing in new and exciting ways. So my excitement was palpable when I discovered Lynne and Rose put out a second, expanded edition of this cornerstone text. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Literacy and Beyond

by Rita Sorrentino

Print vs. digital. Handwriting vs. keyboarding. Bound books vs. eBooks. There are writing-vs-typing.jpgproponents of each side of these ongoing debates. For some, keyboarding is the new handwriting. For others, handwriting is a crucial cognitive skill that stimulates the brain, aids acquisition of language skills in young learners, and well – it’s nostalgic.  

The philosophers Socrates and Plato were no strangers to the pros and cons of written communication long before its digital debut. As they argued, elements of loss and gain would result as paradigms shifted. Socrates believed that writing would create forgetfulness in the learner; Plato envisioned the intellectual benefits that the alphabet would bring to civilization. Undoubtedly, as teachers and learners, we value the contributions of all systems of communication and incorporate all types of reading and writing into our practices to heighten consciousness of ourselves and the world.

I certainly agree with the Greek philosophers that voice intonations, facial expressions, and hand gestures enhance communication and actively engage the audience. Additionally, knowledge through dialogue and learning through inquiry popularized by Socrates remain powerful teaching methods to this day. Jump through the centuries and ponder if Socrates would find today’s social media a suitable space for dialogue and communication… Would today’s digital doings add to his fear that writing would roam about indiscriminately causing chaos and danger for the masses? Or would he value the potential for dialogue and convenient connectivity to create deeper bonds between writers and readers?  Read more

Tools of the Trade: Poetic Inspirations

by Kelly Virgin

At Continuity this past weekend we began our thinking by reading and reflecting on poetry. After looking at several poems, we were given a few minutes to write about whatever came to mind. The last stanza of “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye instantly inspired me to write. I borrowed her last lines and continued with my own:

 

Famous.JPGI want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

I can give first-class belly rubs and meandering, sun-filled walks that bring the wag of a tail and a tongue-filled smile.

I can wake up five minutes first to fill the house with the scent of brewed coffee and to present a steaming mug to my groggy but appreciative partner.

I can help a student believe in herself as a writer by praising her creativity and giving her space for voice and choice in my classroom.

Like the pulley and the buttonhole, my purposes are small and intimate, but in those moments, I become famous.

This brief spurt of inspiration and the thoughtful discussion that followed reminded me how vital poetry is as a writing tool. Since poetry packs so much meaning into so few words, it works well as a seed to spark ideas for personal writing. I have found that even my most hesitant writers find success when writing in response to poetry. Read more

Tool of the Trade: Technology as Teacher’s Pet

by Rita Sorrentino

How would you respond to the following poll?imgres.jpg

  • Were you ever considered a teacher’s pet in your K-12 learning years?
  • As a teacher, were you ever criticized for favoring a particular student over others?

Recently, on a late-afternoon ride to center-city Philadelphia via Market-Frankford Line, I overheard two adolescent girls commiserating about their day: a boring class, too much homework, unfair dress codes, and the existence of a teacher’s pet in a certain class. The first three complaints did not surprise me, but I was curious about the latter. With rubrics and standards for assignments, behavior and competencies, I would have thought the term “teacher’s pet” was no longer front and center in a repertoire of these students’ pet peeves.

Undoubtedly, both teachers and students face a plethora of pressures in their daily interactions with curriculum content, expectations, evaluations and communication. For the most part, policies and procedures are in place to support a healthy teaching and learning environment. However, preparation and planning make great demands on teachers’ time. Schoolwork, homework, and extracurricular activities often leave students with little time for relaxation and socialization. Fortunately, in today’s educational landscape, both teachers and students have access to apps and web tools to help make teaching and learning more manageable and meaningful.

Practical Ed Tech

Richard Byrne is one of my favorite go-to persons for all things edtech. In addition to Free Technology for Teachers, he also maintains iPadApps4School.com and PracticalEdTech.com.  Richard Byrne believes that technology has the power to improve student engagement and achievement. It enables teachers to form powerful, global, professional learning communities. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Introducing Nonfiction Notice and Note Signposts


by Kelly Virgin

9780325050805.jpgIn their Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst write: “Fiction invites us into the writer’s imagined world; nonfiction intrudes into ours and purports to tell us something about it.” Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important that we teach our students how to navigate this intrusion and how to challenge the “truths” of nonfiction writing. In this book, Kylene and Bob share a scaffolded approach to teaching students how to do just this. Their strategies can easily be adapted to any grade level from high elementary to secondary.

My 9th through 11th grade students have found great success with the strategies this year. I started by encouraging them to ask themselves the three big questions: What surprised me? What did the author think I already knew? What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I knew? By asking these questions, students started thinking more in depth about the nonfiction articles we read together and our conversations went beyond just comprehension and regurgitation of facts.

Read more

Tools of the Trade: Voice Recorders

by Kelly Virgin

For years, as a part of my regular classroom writing revision routine, I have instructed students to read their writing out loud. They do this with partners; they do this with me; they do this in corners of my classroom with themselves. I have even acquired a few Toobaloos (a semi-circular tube that students can hold up to their head like a telephone), and when my students aren’t fake phoning each other across the classroom, they are mesmerized by how up close the sound of their own voices become.Image.jpg

But this year I have taken it a step further. This year I have my students record themselves reading their writing out loud. This allows them to actually experience their writing as the audience of their writing. The effect has been noticeable. Just today, I had a student who is a regular work dodger, ask to come back during lunch to make some changes to his writing and then to rerecord to see if it “sounds better.” I regularly notice students cringe when they hear a stumble in their writing and then see them return to the piece, without prompting, to revise. On a few occasions, I’ve even noticed students playing excerpts of their writing out loud for each other. With the help of some simple technology, these recorded writings have seamlessly blended into our writing workshop routine. Read more