Tag Archives: Middle School

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching; it’s my personal fave because it celebrates reflection…and food, of course! At Thanksgiving, I’m reminded to reflect on the year that has passed and remember all of the things for which I am thankful. At this point in my life, most of those things have to do with the exceptional relationships I am fortunate enough to have. Yet, it can also a difficult holiday, particularly for some of our students who may be dealing with trauma in their lives. Still, we hope we can support all members of our school family and help them connect to someone of significance.

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So, when I came across The Great Thanksgiving Listen (TGTL), it seemed there would be something for everyone. Sponsored by StoryCorps, “…this is a national education project that empowers…students to connect with an elder [neighbor, friend, loved one] over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and record an interview, [which can] be entered into the StoryCorps archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.”

Although TGTL officially targets high school students, I noticed in samples of interviews taken from the StoryCorps Podcast (after the inaugural TGTL of 2015), interviewers ages ranged as young as 13. Participants download the StoryCorps App for free on iTunes (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) and register as a user. They will use the app to record and potentially upload the interview.

A Teacher Toolkit outlining the project, its guidelines, Common Core aligned lesson plans (intended for grades 9-12) and more is available on the website. The toolkit also includes variations for students under 13 who may not be granted permission to use the app or for those who may not have access to a smartphone.

The whole process, downloading and getting comfortable with the app, choosing questions (a bank is available) and practicing interview skills can be done in or out of Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 9.51.04 PM.pngclass (or a hybrid) in a matter of days, and the interview itself can range from 5-40 minutes. If it doesn’t happen for Thanksgiving, no biggie. Nothing says it has to. Interviews can occur any time. TGTL just happens to be a community effort.

All in all, the idea behind The Great Thanksgiving Listen is brilliant! We are ever the consumers of information, but we tend to think only experts in the field (whatever that is) have the right to contribute information. What a great opportunity to provide an authentic audience for students and to encourage their contributions to the vast internet bank of knowledge we all access on a regular basis.

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):

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As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.

 

Happy International Literacy Day!

Followers, first-timers and those in between, welcome back to school! It’s a new year full of new possibilities, including our hope to bring you interesting, informed literacy and math news, ideas, and musings here at Coaches Corner!

I really need to start writing my blog ideas down, so I don’t do what I did coming into school this week: panic! Once I talked myself off the ledge, an idea sparked, then smoldered, and finally caught flame: September 8th, International Literacy Day! In its honor, we’re sharing some of our favorite literacy sites and ideas from around the web.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-07-32-pmFirst up is The International Literacy Association or ILA (formerly the International Reading Association), the lead sponsor of International Literacy Day, which focuses on global literacy needs with project ideas and a profile on a spotlight country. Additionally, they are a leading source for professional learning, publications, and of course literacy advocacy. These are the folks who co-produce ReadWriteThink with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), where teachers can find peer-reviewed lesson plans and literacy ideas galore.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-06-00-pmTeachers College at Columbia University is home to the Reading & Writing Project. Lucy Caulkins, Mary Ehrenworth and other literacy giants anchor this site where teachers can download running record reading assessments, view videos of classroom laboratories and find a host of professional learning opportunities and publications. BTW, Lucy Caulkins is presenting in Portland next week!

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-55-52-pmLast Spring I got hooked on A Mighty Girl. It was one of those pop-up “we think you’d like” sites that showed up in my Facebook feed. A Mighty Girl celebrates all things mighty about girls and women. Since we’re talking about literacy, we’re linking you to A Mighty Girl Book Club and from there, you can explore. Like (as in the verb) their Facebook page, and you too, can be the recipient of mighty information like Today in Mighty Girl History.

02dias-blog480Here’s an updated article about young literacy superstar, Marley Dias, creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks. You probably remember her story: 11-year old Marley got tired of not seeing main characters that looked like her in any of the books being read at school. So, she went about collecting donations of 1000 books for young readers that feature black girls as the main character. As you might expect, she far exceeded her initial goal and partner GrassROOTS Community Foundation has cataloged books appealing to readers of all ages, races, cultures and more.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-56-34-pmMy consistent favorite site for “all things bookish” is BookRiot! Its edgy posts are probably most appropriate for older teens (high school) and up. But, that doesn’t mean that the recommended books are inappropriate. Take Kelly Jensen, for example. She authors a recurring BookRiot newsletter called “What’s Up in YA” where I get information about a wide variety of Young Adult book news from “25 YA Paperbacks to Read This Fall” to “3 on a YA Theme: Conjoined Twins or Siblings You Never Leave;” there’s truly something for everyone. There are several other newsletters to choose from; sign up and they’ll faithfully fill your Inbox.

Locally, Literary Artsscreen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-19-28-pm is a cornucopia of literacy bounty in the Portland-Metro area. They sponsor Portland Arts & Lectures, Writers In The Schools (WITS), and the recently revived Wordstock! Our schools in Gresham-Barlow have been recipients of professional Writers-in-Residence partnering with classroom teachers on instruction. In addition, I’ve personally been involved in their College Essay Mentoring Project where high school juniors have an opportunity to get face-to-face feedback on the development of their college essay from professional writers and community members. And, last but not least, don’t forget to check out Wordstock’s 2016 line-up of authors The one-day event is Saturday, November 5th.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-07-57-pmOf course, we couldn’t end this piece without giving a shout-out to our local libraries! Multnomah County Library’s many branches have a wealth of resources to support your literacy needs in the classroom. School Corps is a great starting place to learn how the library can support your teaching and your students.

Obviously, these are just a few of the myriad sites out there that support literacy teaching and learning. Please share one or more of your faves in the Leave a Reply box below to help us grow our list of go-to’s. In the meantime, Happy International Literacy Day today and every day!

Two trains are heading in the opposite direction…: Teaching problem-solving

I’ve always hated the train problem; you know, the one in the title?  I’m not sure why; I think because I would typically read through it once and become defeated since I couldn’t immediately come up with an equation I could apply. Therefore, it must be hard.  My experience has been that most students feel this way about problem-solving.  The STEMtistic below says it all.

THIS IS A PROBLEM!

Our education standards for mathematics expect that students are engaged in problem-solving.  The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principals and Standards for School Mathematics has verified that problem-solving is an integral part of learning.  OK, then how do we rewire students’ brains so that they don’t fear math problems?  How do we help students access the math?

To start, we need to teach our students how to read like a mathematician. 

We need to teach our students how to bring the linguistic and math clues to the surface.

We need to engage students in understanding the problem before they try to solve it – or worse, freeze and dismiss it all together.

Close reading is eduspeak for reading deeply for a purpose. It is more than just skimming. In the literacy world, close reading includes three phases:

  1. Reading for Key ideas
  2. Rereading for craft and structure
  3. Rereading to integrate knowledge and ideas.

I’ve been to several trainings on how to close read science and social studies texts and articles, but I have never been trained on close reading in math; I didn’t think it even applied.

Then came those 5th grade classroom teachers I was privileged to visit last month. During one of those visits, I saw close reading . . .  in math!

The close reading strategy was called the 3 Reads Protocol. In this protocol, students read the problem three times, each with a particular focus. While the strategy was used in a 5th grade classroom, it can be used just as effectively at the middle school and high school levels.

Below was the problem given to the 5th graders:

On the first read, the problem was read chorally (as a class) then covered up and students were asked, “What is the problem about?” Students talked to their study partners about what they remembered of the situation – not the math, just the context. Students answered that the boy in the problem was doing some of his homework before dinner and some after.

Next, students read the problem aloud a second time with their partner and were asked to determine the key quantities and key words from the problem.  After 2 minutes of partner time, the teacher listed the quantities and words on the board.  The students answered with the obvious fractions, then included a smattering of words such as completedbefore, after, remaining, dessert, and the rest. Students were asked why these words were important and how the quantities were related.

The third read,  again with a partner, focused students on the question, What is the problem asking us to find out?  After determining this, students were asked to draw a diagram that included the quantities and their relationship. Some students started with a tape diagram, others with an area model.

Only after these three readings and active thinking did students begin to actually solve the problem in partners. There was a lot of math discourse happening around the room that continued for a good 15-20 minutes.  During this time, the teacher walked around the class, listened in, asked questions about student thinking, and noted which students she would call on during the whole class discussion.

Students were then brought together as a class.  The teacher asked specific partners to share the models they had drawn.  As each model was shown, the teacher asked questions of the class such as:

  • How does _________’s diagram show 3/7?
  • Where is ¼ in ________’s diagram?
  • How are ¼ and 3/7 related in this diagram?

She made sure to ask students who had made models that had taken a divergent path to explain their thinking and asked the same questions she had asked the students with the correct models. Once the teacher went back to the class list of key words, the class came to an agreement about which model (s) made the most sense and the answer that was correct.

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After whole group discussion

We want kids to learn how to solve problems on their own. We need to give them strategies to do it!   Like any skill we want to master, teaching kids how to read closely in math will take time, practice, and coaching – especially if we want to change attitudes about word problems in general.

So, try the 3-reads protocol in your math class! Like most new strategies, it is not likely to go super smooth the first time. Don’t give up! Try it again and get your students out of the bathroom and cleaning up in math instead!

BTW:  I solved the train problem…eventually!

Train Problem - SOLVED!

 

 

 

Building Literacy in Native Language Texts

Over the summer, I looked for Spanish language articles for my 7th grade daughter who attends a Spanish Immersion program in PPS, and I was bummed that my options were limited. I did find TweenTribune, which I’d known about in English. The good news, there were some articles appropriate for Sophie. The not so good news: the offerings were slim; there was no option to change the Lexile Level to meet learners’ needs; teachers couldn’t “assign” the Spanish articles to students as they could articles in English (with a free account); and there was no quiz option. Still, I could read in English what I asked Soph to read in Spanish, and design my own questions for her to respond to.

Recently, I asked Maranda Turner, our district’s Sheltered Instruction Coach, about the benefits of providing some options for students to read text and respond in their native language, and she pointed me to some research: “Research over the last three decades on second language acquisition, brain development, effective programs, and ‘best practices’ in teaching English learners (Olsen, 2006; Rivera & Collum, 2006) has shown that when teachers foster the development of children’s home language in the classroom, ELLs learn English faster and perform better in school long term (Escobar, 2013).

In immersion, Sophie spends part of her day reading and writing in Spanish and more of her day doing the same in English. Why would we not provide similar opportunities for English Language Learners in our mainstream English Language Arts classrooms? There are definitely myths that abound about English language acquisition, but to set the record straight, consider this: As [researcher Laurie] Olsen explains, “Literacy skills are not language specific; they can be learned in one language and transferred to another language, drawing upon a common cognitive base” (Escobar, 2013). In essence, strengthening native language skills strengthens English language skills.

Then, something amazing happened! Just the other day, I subscribed to a service called SmartBrief on EdTech, and wouldn’t you know it, the very first issue I scanned included this linked headline: Newsela offers news articles in Spanish. WHAT?! I clicked, and voila! I was transported to a page that looked like the squares from the Brady Bunch introduction, except, where Alice should be, there was a Kids category story about parents and students rethinking homework.

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Brady Bunch Squares and Newsela Grid

I know several of you already use Newsela to find informative articles to supplement your curriculum. It doesn’t appear as though every article is translated yet, but there are several. Just like Newsela articles published in English, you can choose from four or five Lexile Levels in Spanish, and the service provides you Word Count and Grade Level match as well. Quizzes are also available in Spanish.

I’ve included a screenshot below to demonstrate how to find the Spanish language articles on Newsela. Hover over “Articles” in the task bar across the top, scroll down and click on Spanish, toward the bottom of the bar. The articles are color coded and categorized, but you don’t have the option to search by Spanish categories as you do in English.

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Scroll to Spanish in the Articles tool bar

Finally, Venisha Bahr, our K-8 District Library Coordinator, just sent me a link to a recent edition of the School Library Journal (SLJ, November 17). Specifically, she sent me to this post, Translations of Popular Teen Titles. Listing more than 20 books (with ordering information, teaser, and link to review), including personal fave Eleanor y Park, these titles are most appropriate for 7th grade and Up.

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Teach middle school, never fear! At the bottom of that post, there’s a link to some Spanish language middle grades novels, too! Further resources for classroom connections to Spanish Language resources can be found in Libro por Libro, a monthly-ish column in SLJ.

I wish I had such language resources to share in Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, and more of the reportedly 50+ languages spoken in our district. Given the ever decreasing size of our home planet thanks to technological innovations, perhaps they are coming. If you’re aware of other second language resources, please leave a reply, so others may learn from you!

 

Plickers: An Engaging Formative Assessment Tool

I was at a Digital Technology workshop earlier in the week, and I was pleased to hear the presenter talk about technology as a vehicle through which to engage students and support learning, not as a learning outcome itself. In fact, a mantra we heard frequently throughout the morning really hit home for me: It’s not about tech; it’s about learning.”

It's not about the tech; it's about the learning.

It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

I can’t remember the first time I was introduced to Plickers, but I do remember the first time I actively used it; that was just a few weeks ago, as we were introducing Professional Learning Teams to three of our middle school staffs that would be collaborating across school sites. Plickers is a formative assessment tech tool. Using Plickers to pose questions and record live responses would both engage our “students” and support their learning, just what we’d hope could be replicated by teachers in their own classes. The tech tool simply enhanced what we might have done with paper and pencil. But, the more opportunities we have to purposefully and effectively integrate technology for students, the more opportunities we have for buy-in from various stakeholders.

This tool is free, easy to prep, and effective. It can be used in any content area to “take the temperature” of a class on their understanding of a concept, their perception of a theory, or their progress on a task, for example. It has its limits; you can’t ask a constructed response question with it and have a means for quick feedback, but it has a place in the assessment toolbox.

Click on the video below to get a feel for what Plickers is and how it works, then try it for yourself! After you do, drop us a note in the “Leave a Reply” box below this post, so we can all benefit from your pilot!

Summer Opportunities Coming Your Way!

Whether you’re more of a fan of The Jamies (Summertime, Summertime) or Alice Cooper (School’s Out for Summer) or fall somewhere in the middle, one thing is clear, Summer is fast approaching! For our final post of the year, we’re offering a little something for you (check out our Events page for a host of classes/workshops), and if you read on, a little something for your students.

In my literacy world, one of the greats of summertime is the Summer Reading Program run by Multnomah County Library a cornerstone of our district’s Middle School Summer Reading Program, offering schools a variety of adventures for students!

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Why summer reading, you may ask? Well, a big reason is heading off the summer skills slide. A landmark study done by Barbara Haynes (1978) who followed 6th & 7th graders for two years revealed the following effects of summer reading participation:

1. The number of books read in summer is consistently related to academic gains.

2. Children in every income group who read six or more books in summer “maintained or improved their reading skills while kids who didn’t read any, saw their skills slip as much as an entire grade level.”

3. The use of the public library during the summer is more predictive of vocabulary gains than attending summer school.

4. The major factors determining whether a child reads over the summer were: whether the child used the public library; the child’s gender (girls read more than boys); socioeconomic status; and the distance from home to a library.

5. More than any other public institution, including the schools, the public library contributed to the intellectual growth of children during the summer. Moreover, unlike summer school programs, the library was used by over half the children and attracted children from diverse backgrounds.

There have been notable studies since this original publication, if you’re looking for additional research, such as the 1982 “Beginning School Study,” by researchers Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle of the National Center for Summer Learning and a 2001 report, “The Role of Public Libraries in Children’s Literacy Development,” by the University of Michigan’s Susan Neuman and Temple University’s Donna Celano. The bottom line: summer reading, including free, independent reading of a student’s choice is a must! And, remember, reading doesn’t need to be limited to physical books. Some of our more reluctant readers can be turned on by an e- or audio book, a graphic novel, or Zine. There’s also a whole informational text side to reading that appeals to some, which could include anything from newsy articles to infographics to “reading” a museum exhibit. Truly, the possibilities are limitless! Check out the summer reading programs in your community and get your kids pumped to include reading in their down-time!

As we bid you adieu for the summer months, we hope you will spend 5 minutes browsing the Events page and find a class or workshop that resonates with you. If you know of anything we may have missed, send us a note and we’ll add it.

Until September….