As a member of this Online Book Club, you are expected to post to the book blog at least once per week between now and July 11 -- that's six weeks. You should finish your book before then, and you will meet during the Institute in your groups to extend the discussion and plan how to present the book to the others in the Institute.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

You can be a deviant, too

When asked to summarize this book, I will forefront it's focus on Common Core. More a handbook on navigation than an overt argument in favor of CCSS, the authors guide readers in connecting the dots between standards and best practice, emphasizing all along the agency of the teacher (138).

In the book's concluding chapter, the authors mention use the term positive deviance to describe the behavior of changing something from the inside, using what's available rather than more top-down, externally driven revisions. As it pertains to us, positive deviance means collaboration in groups like the Writing Project to identify and implement those uncommonly good ideas for getting our students writing, reading, speaking and listening effectively, and the unscripted CCSS allow us this latitude. 

Sure, the book collects many "uncommonly good ideas" ideas, like developing teacher questions along with student questions to guide lesson planning and teacher-teacher collaboration, modeling effective and ineffective peer responses, and capitalizing on student interest and authentic audiences to promote student collaboration (all from ch. 5). But more so, its case studies and commentaries thereof provide readers a pattern for using CCSS as a springboard for inquiry and exploration to maximize what works for their students. It's certainly helped me reflect on my practices and prepare some ideas for our action inquiry. 

Content, Then Structure

And in the pecking order of what comes first—content or structure—let content be the front-runner and the determiner of structure. (loc 1679)

Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for saying this. As a new teacher, I do not yet have the experience to know always what I should stress. Our school has been pushing to write all essays in the SAT format, and without enough content, our students were struggling. All content that is taught or learned by students is not suitable to be in the SAT essay format. Here is where other genres and transitional assignments come in.
I loved the idea of transitional writing assignments. Often the kids and I are so done with a unit that we want that clean break, but I think that it would be helpful to scaffold for the next unit. This is also that time where the writing can be low risk and personal, which they always are happy to do.
Taking the approach of examining writing as what works or doesn't work, what makes it effective, what do you personally like about the writing would also be an easy transition assignment is another low risk but meaningful activity for them. As students grow as writers, finding good mentor writers and mentor texts are beneficial to them. Being able to pick out these qualities in the texts is the first step; the next is imitation. 
This chapter soothed me in that I was not an AWOL teacher doing what I wanted in my classroom. I am very happy to have read this chapter as support for how and what I teach!

Home on the Range

One of the most successful writing units I have taught in many ways mirrors the investigative/informative writing process that Chapter Three outlines. We read texts that discussed different aspects of Detroit and its history, present, and future. Based on what we had learned as a class, students broke off to follow their own interests in learning about their city. The unit worked out really well because the kids got into it. It also meant that they could learn from each other's paper topics at the end, which was a great way to close out the semester.
That being said, if I had to teach the unit over again, using more of the framework presented in this book, I think I would give them less time to write in class and spend more time on model texts. A lot of the confusions that kids had during the drafting process would have been cleared up had we spent a little more time looking at what makes a successful informative essay paragraph and practiced on those.
All of that being said, it looks like I'm teaching the same kids next year that I taught this year, so I obviously can't repeat that unit. If anyone has some really creative writing unit ideas, I am all eyes.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Oh - so that's what Spiraling means...

You know how when someone asks you if you know a song - they name the artists and title, maybe even the album, but you don't recognize it. But then you're in the car and your favorite new tune comes on, you sing along, then the radio host says the name of the song, and it's the song your acquaintance was talking about?

That's what it was like when I read the section on spiraling in chapter 4. I knew the concept (teaching the same concept and skill again and again over time with increasing complexity and difficulty), but not by that name.

On pg 78, the authors write, "Our commitment is to helping our students develop intellectually, not to checking off skills as if they were items on a shopping list (or on a set of standards). By spiraling writing strategies, teachers can support growth - even growth spurts - by weaving together past and present writing experiences."

Happily, my district demonstrated such commitment by devoting time (and state approved PD hours) for middle and high school teachers to meet and discuss how best to support one another, both vertically across grade levels and horizontally across disciplines. The results were some hearty conversations about authentic audiences and applicable argumentation, ending in a rough outline of curriculum we'd all try to hit in grades 6-10. We'll see how it works. I have hope, but I'm young and naive, as my mentor likes to remind me.

The Conclusion Paragraph (Chapter 6)

Chapter six does what all good conclusions should do:  it brings us back to the thesis, recalls the main ideas, and leaves the reader thinking.

In that spirit, here are some quotes that left me thinking:

"The CCSS are not a curriculum.  They provide a flexible kind of road map for teaching writing and identify ultimate destinations, but they do not require a particular route to get there," (132).
-This is a great quote to use with the next non-teacher who engages me in a conversation about the "evil Common Core."

"School should never be just a preparation for the next grade level or for some unknown job... School is about the present moment," (133).
-One thing I try to remember is that the the teen world is just as complex as the adult world.  Meet them where they are, and stop minimizing their stress, relationships, and place in this world, just because they are not "adults" yet.

"School has to be more than getting ready, getting by, or getting through," (134). 
-I think that the above quote from 133 leads to this style of thinking when it comes to school for our students.

Alright everyone!  I am excited to meet all of you on Monday!


Blog Collaboration-Traveling the World (Chapter 5)

So much content, so little time! 

Part of the final that I wrote for last year's World Literature class, comprised of mostly seniors, was a question asking what they would add to the class if they could.  Students are good at reinforcing what a teacher already knows, and I was convinced that I needed to represent more cultures in the readings for this class.

How?  How does one travel the world in nine months?

Liz Harrigan, one of the teacher-examples from this chapter, nailed it.  Let the students do the exploring.  Could it be this easy?  I don't have to slave over shoehorning more Latin American, Africa, Asian, and European authors into my already-dense curriculum?  

This idea really got me going.  I know that student blogs are not a new concept, but I love the way that Harrigan implemented them, and I equally love that her guidelines were included (105).  With a little tweaking for my college-bound seniors, I think this is definitely a take-away from this book that I can use in my classroom.  

Question for my colleagues.   I think students could do this two ways:
1. For each of the four semesters, choose a book from a different region.  This way, students are getting a range of perspectives.
2. Students can choose a region that interests them, and deeply study that region only.  This way, the student gains deep knowledge of one region. 

Should I offer these two options, or, would you stick to number one only? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Transitional Writing (ch. 3)

Chapter 3 was a nice explosion of CCSS possibilities. Murphy and Smith explored a number of demands and simply demonstrated how teachers have met those demands with variety and versatility to engage both students and - arguably - the content more effectively. But the item that stood out to me was less expansion and more connection.

On pg. 47, the authors introduce Jim Moffett's idea of using investigative writing as a bridge to informational writing from narrative writing. In order to mitigate the severity of transition between the two genres, wading into investigative writing allows students to gather and write stories as evidence and data to be applied in an informational way. "It captures the idea of writing across a range without having to put boxes around different kinds of writing. One kind of writing can actually support another, and indeed it can flow into and be incorporated into another" (47). The elimination of the boxes would also help the students integrate new skills with established ones, allowing for a more holistic mindset for writing.

I've had some success with investigative writing in my 9th grade class where I introduce freshmen to the high school research paper. I ask the students to write about a school or student-related topic - something that could potentially inspire some sort of revision to their student experience. In doing so, I allow (and therefore require) students to seek out and acquire first hand information, be it an interview, a survey, an observation or an experiment. The investigative component usually assuages the more difficult drills of contextualizing, deploying, and connecting textual or source evidence. It's worked alright thus far, but I think structuring my units so that my investigative component is actually a transition from a prior unit will increase the effectiveness.