October 2015 - Room 213

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Feedback and Formative Assessment

I've been using a lot of formative assessment lately and I'm totally loving it. Most of the students are engaged, and glad of the stress-relief that the feedback-only approach supplies.  I thought I'd share some highlights:

Using feedback and formative assessment to increase student learning
1.  My IB students passed in an essay that I assessed using a checklist that provided them with plenty of feedback.  Then, I   indicated the paragraph that needed the most work and instructed them to use my feedback to redo it. I also had them summarize my feedback and rewrite any awkward sentences.  I'm doing this to ensure they reflect on -- and use --the feedback right away, rather than on another essay a few weeks from now, when the feedback will lay forgotten, in the bottom of their lockers.

2.  This idea comes from Sandra Herbst: whenever you assess student writing (especially shorter pieces) use two different colour markers.  Use one colour to mark a dot beside sentences/areas that are well done and the other marker to to indicate areas that need work.  Then, conference with the student.  It will be their responsibility to tell you why you coded it as you did.  This way, they do the thinking and you do a lot less writing on student work. In my experience, they are usually bang on.

Group feedback is one way to save you some time.3.  We're working on short stories this week in my grade twelve class, and I want students to be able to write about the techniques an author uses to develop theme.  They will pass that in next week for summative assessment.  I've been using gradual release to get them the confidence they need to do it.  I modelled how I would do a close read of a story, then we co-constructed the assessment criteria for writing about theme.  Then, I shared something I wrote about the story, and we assessed it together, using the criteria.  After they read the next story, they worked on a group paragraph together.  Monday, they will trade with another group and assess that group's writing, using the criteria again.  When everyone's finished, we will discuss what they discovered about the strengths and weaknesses in the writing. In the past, this activity has always lead to great discussion, both during the writing process and during their assessment of each other's work.  Finally, I'll give them another story and they will complete the assignment for a mark. Because they have already worked with the criteria, they are more likely to adhere to it in their own writing.

That's what I've been up to in the formative world.  My mission is to give them "just-in-time" feedback and to put more responsibility in their hands; my hope is that they begin to take in the suggestions and use them to improve, rather than just focusing on the number.  Do you have any tips and ideas you'd like to share?


Fall Fun with Creative Writing

Halloween is not a holiday that gets much attention in high school. Yes, some of us dress up.  Some of us give out treats. But, by and large, the day passes without a lot of class time being lost to any spooky fun.

I decided to change that this year, and I decided to be sneaky about it. I'm going to let my twelfth graders have their fun AND do some learning too.

Right now, we are deep into reader's workshop. The students are reading individual novels, using reader's notebooks to explore ideas, and participating in small group discussions about their books. They have written and chatted about things like point of view and character. They have explored how setting and atmosphere affects the tales they are reading.  So what better way to assess their true understanding of how authors use these elements in their fiction than to get them to write some themselves?
For the next week or so, my students are going to work through a series of learning stations that will guide them through the process of creating and revising a short, spooky story. In my last blog post, I wrote about how I set the scene, getting them to evaluate some short youtube videos. Today, they moved through the first series of learning stations.  There were four of them: point of view, setting, atmosphere & character.  Each station had eight cards to choose from, and each card presented them with a short writing exercise that required that they experiment with that element of fiction.

Tomorrow, they will be given this graphic organizerso they can begin the initial planning stages of their stories. Thursday will be learning station day again, but this time, the tasks will be more specifically related to their drafts and will ask them to carefully consider how they will use the different elements of fiction in their story.  For example, they will experiment with different ways to open their tale, and will brainstorm ways they can add foreshadowing to the story.

Over the weekend they will complete their drafts, using the ideas they explored during the learning stations.  Then, on Monday, the stations will focus on revision, so they can fine-tune their spooky creation.

Ironically, I've designed this unit so my students will write amazing scary stories...yet I am easily spooked. I hope they do a good job, but not too good!

Would you like to win the package I use for my Halloween stations? Join this blog hop and giveaway, and you might win it, along with other amazing prizes from other bloggers!
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Secondary Smorgasbord: Writing a Scary Story

It's the middle of October already and the signs are everywhere: pumpkin-lined door steps, candy displays at the grocery store, and students who are starting to slip into the doldrums.  The honeymoon is over and any back to school energy has been used up.

I've decided to wake up my students with a creative writing assignment that will allow them to work on the skills I want them to learn AND have a little spooky fun.  We are going to explore the elements of good fiction, make connections to the novels they are reading for reader's workshop, and then they will write their own scary short story.

The first step is, of course, to set the scene.  I've searched youtube for short clips that are appropriate for high school and not too scary for those students who are wimps like me.  I'm going to show each of them and ask students to respond to the following questions: Which elements of the story create suspense?  Is the video scary?  Why or why not?  What improvements would you suggest?

After I get their heads in my scary little game, I will give them this graphic organizer to help them start planning their own story.  You can grab it for free in my store by clicking the link.

Once the plans are in place we will be using learning stations to guide them through the creative process.  I'll keep you posted on all of the scary details!


Developing a Thesis Statement

This week my grade eleven IB class started their first major writing assignment for The Merchant of Venice.  With my IB class, the focus is always the same: what is the author's purpose?  What techniques does s/he use to achieve that purpose?  And how do cultural and contextual considerations affect our understanding of the work? Merchant provides lots of food for thought for all of these questions. However, they need to narrow down all of their ideas into a solid thesis statement for an essay.

I never give my IB's a topic for their writing assignments.  I need to build independent thinkers, so we spend a lot of time, especially in the beginning, working on developing a strong thesis.  This week we did an activity that worked really well, and I thought I'd pass it on.
Developing a good thesis is a thinking process

1. I started by posting chart paper throughout my room.  Each piece had a heading that corresponding with some of the major elements in the play. (The bond plot, the casket plot, etc.)  I divided students into groups and each group had to brainstorm everything they knew about how that element was a factor in Shakespeare's overall purpose, and record it on the chart paper.  After an appropriate amount of time, I had each group rotate clockwise to the next chart. There they had to add more info to what the previous group had recorded.

2. Once they were finished, I asked volunteers to explain their theories.  What is Shakespeare's overall message in the play? Each one went to one corner of the room and stated an argument. I repeated this until we had four students in each corner, each with a different theory (it was only coincidental that we had one for each corner).  Next, I asked students to join the student they agreed with and form a group.

3. The next step was for each group to look at the pieces of chart paper I had arranged across one wall.  I put smaller pieces of paper on the bottom, connecting each larger sheet.  The groups were instructed to record ways that the intertwining plots and elements supported their individual arguments.
Developing a good thesis is a thinking process

4. Finally, each group had to take turns explaining the connections they discovered to the rest of the class.

I explained afterwards that I was trying to replicate the process that you need to go through to try to understand a complex text.  As we read any text and record theories and ideas, I tell them that we are scattering the puzzle pieces.  The corners and edges are obvious, but there are always pieces that are a mystery; you don't know where they fit until you do some work first.  This exercise was my attempt to show them how to start putting all of the pieces together so they could finally see the big picture.

Their outlines are due tomorrow; I sure hope that this exercise made it easier for them to dig deep and  develop a strong thesis and argument.


Managing Independent Reading

Most English teachers would agree that they love the idea of independent reading.  Who wouldn't want students that are highly engaged and interested in reading great books?

However, the idea can also be more than a little daunting, because when we give our students control over their choices, we lose control. I get a lot of questions about how to manage independent reading and have written a number of blog posts about how I do so.  I've collected them all here for easy reference:

How can you manage independent reading in middle and high school?
Three Reasons You Should Do Reader's Workshop in High School: There's a whole lot of fake reading going on in our classrooms, yet students need to read more.  This post discusses why.

Reader's Workshop Assessment: How do I assess my students when they aren't reading the same novel? That's a good question. I share what I do in this post.

Stocking Your Classroom Library: It doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.

Reader's Workshop: Planning and Skill Building: When students are reading different novels at different times, you need to do some upfront planning to make sure they still work on the skills they need to work on.

Feeling the Love with Reader's Notebooks: I wrote this post about the first time I had my students put together their reader's notebooks.  They love to cut and paste, even in high school, and they especially love to personalize their books.

Learning Stations for Reader's Notebooks: Learning stations are a great way to get students to think about their novels and to focus on the skills you want them to work on.

Balancing Reader's Workshop with the Whole Class Novel: I love independent reading, but I still teach full class texts.  Here's how.

Getting Ready for My Reader's Workshop: In this post, I share how my first week of workshop went this fall.

How do you manage independent reading? If you have any awesome tips or ideas, please share in the comments!


Learning Stations for Reader's Notebooks

Learning stations are perfect for independent reading:
We are one month into reader's workshop and many pages have been read.  It's been a wonderful thing, but because I'd been sick for awhile, I hadn't taken in my students' reader's notebooks and, to be honest, hadn't given them a lot of instruction on how to use them.  They are meant to be used as a place for them explore ideas and to take notes on the different literary elements they discover as they read their independent novels. They will use these notes for Socratic seminars and other assignments we will do later in the semester.
Leaning stations and reader's notebooks are a perfect pair for independent reading in middle and high school.
I knew that we needed to get refocused, so I created some learning stations that corresponded with the pages in their notebooks and we spent a class focusing on five of them: point of view, author's message, character, great quotes and questions.  I told students to choose a station to start at, based on the section of their notebook that needed more detail.

They worked at each station for about fifteen minutes, and then moved on to the next one. If a student finished the station early, or needed more time, I allowed them to move or stay, based on what they needed. Some of the stations required that they start writing right away, while others instructed them to read a few pages of their novel to look for certain things, like clues to theme, for example.  It all worked out perfectly.  My students were engaged, writing, reading, and thinking about their texts.  In the end, their journals had more entries, and they had more instruction to guide them when they work on them independently in class or for homework.

Next week, we're going to start looking at author style, and students will move through stations that have them look for examples of figurative language and different types of sentences. They will still be expected to keep working on their journals independently, but these stations worked so well, that we will be using them much more frequently from now on!

Would you like to create your own stations?  You can purchase mine at my TpT store. Click HERE to check it out.
Leaning stations and reader's notebooks are a perfect pair for independent reading in middle and high school.


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