Category Archives: WRITING

April is National Poetry Month – Celebrate!

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“Poetry is everywhere – it just needs editing.”        –James Tate

I have had a heck of a time writing this week’s teaching tip.  I had it planned out in my head (sort of) and had begun to collect resources to support teaching that centered around National Poetry Month.  And then I wrote a first draft – it took me nearly 6 hours to write and reflected my ADD.  And, as Rachel kindly and gently noted, “it was pretty long and maybe we needed to divide it into 3 parts.”  In truth, it was not only long, but it was everywhere.  And it needed a lot of editing.  James Tate’s quote about poetry is making me feel a little bit better about it.

So this week’s teaching tip is #1 in a series about teaching poetry, with a focus on “go to” resources for your classroom (or at home) to plan at least a little bit ahead for a month of poetry everywhere.  And parents?  There are some poetry ideas in here for you as well!

April is the perfect time to celebrate American Poets and Poetry!  It has been a long winter and celebrations are great ways to rejuvenate weary students and teachers.  There are countless ways to celebrate:  Collect and read poetry, respond to poetry in writing or art, write poetry or perform poetry.  You can write to poets.  You can make recordings of kids reading poetry.

Poetry is my favorite genre to teach: it teaches kids about good writing, the crucial importance of language, and how to read and think critically and carefully. Moreover, poetry gives kids the opportunity to reflect on the people they are and the world they inhabit, and to imagine the people they wish to be and the world they hope to create.  Remember: Poetry is a worthwhile genre across the academic spectrum: Language Arts (reading and writing), STEM, Social Science and Performing Arts.  


Click on the underlined links to check out these resources firsthand to create poetry units or to weave into previously planned lessons:

The American Academy of Poetspoets.org

This is the place to go for poems, interdisciplinary lessons (many aligned with the common core standards) to teach poetry, and ideas for celebrating poetry in your school or classroom.  Click on the “For Educators” menu to find tips for teaching poetry, poetry resources for teens, curriculum and lesson plans, great poems to teach, essays on teaching, and a teacher resources center.  Check out The Listening Booth.  Other highlights include:

  • 30 ways to celebrate National Poetry MonthTons of ideas to weave into your classroom or school or at home to celebrate poetry!  Put poetry in an unexpected place!  Write a letter to a poet!
  • A POEM IN YOUR POCKET: Share a poem with everyone you meet on “National Poem in Your Pocket Day” which is Thursday, April 24, 2014.  Select a poem or compose an original work and carry it with you in your pocket all day, sharing the poem and the fun of National Poetry Month wherever you go. The site has poems to download (.pdf format) ready to share in your classroom or school or with your friends and neighbors.
  • The 2014 Poet-to-Poet Project:  This is a special multimedia educational project for students in grades 3-12 to write poems in response to the poems of living poets (classrooms can watch YouTube videos of the poets reading and explaining the creation of their poem) and send them to the American Academy of Poets.  Students have until April 30, 2014 to submit their poems. The American Academy of Poets worked with a curriculum specialist to design a series of standards – based lesson plans, with Science connections, together with activities and resources to support students who participate in this project:
  • The Literature of War (Grades 10-12)Students develop a poetic vocabulary and pursue an examination of the effects of war on those involved in the fighting and those they leave behind, moving chronologically through time.  The unit concludes by looking at the world’s most recent acts of war, the effects and ramifications of the events on and following September 11, through the reading of poems written since that date. As a culminating activity, students are asked to respond with a poem of their own that they illustrate with relevant images found on the web.

Poetry-Foundation-Logo-horizThe Poetry Foundation

This is an awesome website with thousands of poems and short bios of poets.  It is easily searchable for specifics.  It also has a wide variety of resources with ideas for teaching poetry across the spectrum:

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Poetry Out Loud

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.  The site has suggested lessons and class schedules.

Although the official contest is designed for high schoolers, the materials could be adapted for classroom use in younger grades.  Here is a link to a downloadable .pdf of the 2014 Poetry Out Loud Teacher’s Guide.


PBS NewsHour Poetry Page

A compendium of PBS features on contemporary poets and poetry that might be relevant to the previously planned lessons you are teaching in your classroom (a simple way to weave poetry celebration into your current instruction).   

In particular, take a look at the project of the current Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway, called “Where Poetry Lives, “which focuses on “issues that matter to Americans through the framework of poetry.”  Some interesting pieces for parents and teachers alike that are certain to generate meaningful discussion.


ReadWriteThink

A comprehensive list of resources and ideas for lesson plans and assessments focused on National Poetry Month.

 

shel silversteinShel Silverstein

This page contains teaching and learning materials using the poetry of the late, but forever beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein.  Who doesn’t love The Giving Tree? Here is a  link to the downloadable .pdf of Shelebrate National Poetry Month 2012, which is representative of the engaging curriculum found on this website.  Shel’s poems are accessible, meaningful and so much fun.  Parents should  might want to check out Shel’s website to access Shel’s poetry (samples), animations and activities and for a list of his poetry books.


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NY Times Learning Network

Here are thirty, easy, quick and engaging ideas for ways to respond to and appreciate,  create,  and perform poetry, all with connections to the larger world.  With links to specific teaching resources.  Designed with teachers in mind!

 

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The Poetry Archive

I couldn’t leave this site off this list even though it seems to be a UK site.  It contains a wealth of materials about poems, poets and the art of poetry,  with online recordings of poets from around the world reading their own work.  There is a menu of teacher resources with materials for teaching students at all ages starting at age 5, with ideas about how to incorporate listening into a lesson.  It also houses “The Children’s Poetry Archive” which allows a search by “poetic form.”   Here are some Tips for getting the best out of the Archive.


More next week!

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Tweet, Tweet, Tweet…

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This week’s teaching tip focuses on Twitter and its use as a teacher resource.  It’s a great source for professional development and it supports collaboration among teachers within a school, a district, a country, and yes, the world.  It is also a wonderful social medium to practice writing.  Really. 

Twitter tweets rock.  Honestly, I never thought I’d say this – 140 characters?  Are you kidding me? What can anyone say that’s worth reading in 140… but wait.  It takes a lot of writing prowess to write a meaningful and coherent thought in 140 characters.  True sentences, often, are whittled down to the pith (think Ernest Hemingway).

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway revealed his struggle with writer’s block: “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

twitter hashtags

Twitter can be a good place to practice writing — and also search for — that “one true sentence.” It is chock full of sentences (okay, “tweets”) that can lead the reader to knowledge, personal/professional support, and often, the truth (always be on the look out for trolls, political ax grinders and The Onion, among other Twitter accounts, that can lead you astray).  And yes, Twitter is full of digital noise (think about the notes or texts you confiscate during instruction).

In fact, teachers can use the power of Twitter to build a one-of-a-kind, fully-customized, digital network that permits them to quickly share resources, voice concerns about educational policy, and lend or seek support from other teachers. Differentiated teaching & learning? Yes.  Twitter can be utilized as differentiated professional development (who has not yearned for this in the teaching profession?)

If you haven’t created a twitter account, and aren’t sure how it would work, here are some examples of teachers on twitter.  Then, go to twitter.com and create your free account. Remember, it’s public so put up a nice photo of yourself and take some time to set up your profile.   And then, tweet!

twitter reader

Twitter is NOISY! Determine which accounts you should follow.

Twitter can feel like being in the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour and being hard of hearing.  People, ideas, music, videos, are flying around all over the place.  OVERWHELMING.

BUT, the user (that’s you) has total control of the accounts he or she follows (and unfollow).  You decide what you want to read and hear.  So,  begin by following educators you know or have worked with.  Twitter helps you:

  • connect and converse with those other teachers who attended professional development with you last week
  • lend support to one of your colleagues who is struggling with classroom engagement.

It makes sense to follow the established “experts” – these tweets will often have timely information relevant to your teaching practice, and can help you hone your craft.

twitter books

Here are a few of the twitter accounts which provide valuable teaching resources/guidance that Rachel and I both follow:

  1.  @edutopia:  Inspiration and Information for what works in education.  This account and its companion website (www.edutopia.org) have tons of research-based teaching ideas with an eye on the looming common core standards.  Love this.
  2. @DiscoveryEd: This is a global account that focuses on all aspects of classroom teaching and technology.  Companion website: www.discoveryeducation.com.
  3. @pbsteachers: PBS loves teachers!  Free digital resources and loads of great content for your classroom in all subject areas.
  4. @USATeducation: Resources from USA Today to connect student learning to the world around them.
  5. @NCTM: Tweets about Math teaching  from the the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Also take a look at their companion website Illuminations for additional teaching resources).
  6. @Tolerance_org and @Facing History:  A plug for my most favorite teaching resources as a social science, history and literature teacher. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers with phenomenal free teaching materials and Facing History provides meaningful curriculum (and supportive, ongoing, reflective professional development from amazing people) geared toward promoting tolerance and combatting racism across the globe.
  7. @NCTE:  The National Council of Teachers of English tweet information on teaching (resources), common core and educational policy for pre-k to HS educators.  (Also check out www.NCTE.org and www.readwritethink.org for great teaching materials and ideas).
  8. @rethinkschools: Rethinking Schools focuses on teaching for social justice, anti-racist education & equity in public education policy & practice.  Tweets provide information, links to resources and thoughtful education policy discussion.
  9. @NSTA: The account of the National Science Teacher Association with a focus on all things STEM!
  10. @NEA:  The twitter account of the National Education Association which covers happenings and discussions on teaching and educational policy.  Here’s a place to help you stay in touch with what’s happening in terms of common core and teacher evaluation, along with other issues in education, even if you don’t have time to read the paper or watch the news!

twitter dude

Tweet: but don’t forget the #hashtag#

Compose tweets – talk about your teaching, your thoughts about educational policy, what is happening in your classroom, and concerns about assessment, lesson planning, common core or classroom management.  Post links, post multimedia.  Post what has meaning to you – what you wish to have a conversation about.  Tweet once or twice a day.  And respond to the tweets of others. And use:

twitter-hashtags

What’s a hashtag?  It is a word or phrase that is preceded by a # or hashtag.  In the noisy tweeting world of twitter, the hashtag categorizes tweets.   Use hashtags when you tweet and want your message to be part of a larger conversation beyond your followers.

There are standard hashtags (that the tweeter professionals all know and monitor) that will pull your tweet into a larger conversation beyond your immediate followers.  Make sure you use a relevant hashtag and you will reach others who are talking (whoops, tweeting) about the same topic.  Use more than one hashtag if your tweet applies to more than one topic, but choose wisely. If you want that hashtag’s community to value your input, take care to keep that twitter stream relevant and meaningful.  

Here is a long list of the Educational Hashtags which will allow you to place your words (tweet) within the purview of others monitoring those hashtags.  Use this list to monitor other conversations that might be meaningful to you (just type it in the search box on your twitter page).

A worldwide Twitter conversation known as #edchat takes place every Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern time and 7 p.m. Eastern time.  It’s worth monitoring and any educator can join in to discuss and learn about current teaching trends, how to integrate technology, transform their teaching, and connect with inspiring educators worldwide. Click here: #edchat  to learn more.  Discussions here also focus on education policy and education reform.

Try it!

Twitter-leader

Practice and read and learn.  It’s cool.

And, in conclusion, take a look at these wonderful teacher: Painful Hashtags.  Some might look woefully familiar!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame… A Triple Play Review!

Spring Training is underway and pitchers and catchers in both the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues reported last week, with position players reporting this week.  And for many, this winter’s fiercely frigid weather has made us anxious for the baseball season to officially begin as that first pitch is a definite sign that spring is in the air!  So in honor of all things baseball, together with recognition of Black History month, this review looks at a few titles that explore baseball before and during the Civil Rights movement and the efforts to break the color barrier on the baseball diamond.

I love books about baseball, well, because I love baseball.  It is a quintessentially American sport and its history reflects the challenges we have faced as a culture (and those we continue to face in this age of desperate measures to be the very best).  My classroom library has always contained a bursting bin with books about every aspect of baseball, including one on the physics of baseball.

My favorite books in the baseball bin are the picture books — which capture the beauty and movement of a sport that is demanding, exacting, front-loaded with failure, torturous (extra-inning games), but always (almost) unpredictable, with great potential for dramatic action.   Three of my favorites are laden with pictures, paintings, and photographs which can be enjoyed by baseball fans of all ages and can be meaningfully incorporated into a K-12 ELA and Social Science curriculum.  They can be used alone or together.

We are the Ship (The Story of Negro League Baseball), by Kadir Nelson

front of we are the ship

Kadir Nelson’s breathtaking narrative about the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues is packed with punch.  Hank Aaron penned the foreword and the story is told from the point of view of an unnamed “Everyman” who provides a “first-hand” chronicle of life as a black player beginning not too long after Abner Doubleday was said to have invented the game.  The book is divided into nine chapters or “innings.”  The “first inning” details the story of Rube Foster, the founder of the first Negro League and the “ninth inning” accounts the journey of Jackie Robinson as he crossed the color line into the previously all white major leagues.  The paintings of the players, the stadiums, the baseball cards, the ticket stubs all add to this detailed and compelling story of baseball and many important players, who may not all be as famous as Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth, but who forged a path that led to Jackie Robinson’s dramatic debut.  The pain of bigotry and segregation is detailed in the words and the eyes of the players Nelson so beautifully depicts.  And yet the joy of playing baseball leaps from every page.

back of We are the Ship

Satchel Paige, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, with paintings by James E. Ransome

 satchel paige

“Some say Leroy Paige was born six feet three and a half inches tall, 180 pounds, wearing a size fourteen shoe. Not a bit of truth to it. And some argue that when Mrs. Lula Paige first held her precious Leroy in her arms, she noticed his right fist was tightly curved around a baseball. Pure fiction. It would take him eighteen years to grow to that size and about half that amount of time to realize that his hand and a baseball were a perfect match.”

Lesa Cline-Ransome and her husband James Ransome have collaborated together to create a number of extraordinary books and “Satchel Paige” was their first joint work, and is a lovely tribute to the first black player named to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.   James Ransome’s paintings bring the amazing Leroy Robert Paige to life as we learn how he came to be called Satchel (from carrying bags at the train station in Mobile, Alabama where he grew up).  Lesa Cline-Ransome’s narrative is enthralling as the reader learns that Satchel was caught shop-lifting and spent five years in reform school where he perfected the art of pitching.  “And no one pitched  like Satchel Paige.”  The writing, the paintings, and a chart of Paige’s vital statistics at the book’s end make this book an informative, entertaining and visually compelling read.

  Teammates, by Peter Golenbock, Illustrated by Paul Bacon

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“The general manage of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team was a man by the name of Branch Rickey.  He was not afraid of change.  He wanted to treat the Dodger fans to the best players he could find, regardless of the color of their skin.  He thought segregation was unfair and wanted to give everyone, regardless of race or creed, an opportunity to compete equally on ballfields across America.  To do this, the Dodgers needed one special man.”

And so begins the story, as told artfully by Peter Golenbock, of Jackie Robinson’s early days in what has been called “the great experiment.”  This short but powerful narrative of the many challenges faced by Robinson in making the Dodgers and traveling with the team is told simply and directly.  And the stark truth of the death threats and the constant cruelty and humiliations by fellow players and opposing team players is seen in the short, muscular, declarative sentences describing Robinson’s life in the major leagues.  Golenbock’s dramatic description in the closing pages of  Pee Wee Reese’s bold move (for the time) in support of Robinson is direct and powerful.  Paul Bacon’s watercolor illustrations are combined with black & white photographs and headlines from this important time period in the history of baseball – and civil rights.

This book can be read by all ages and, despite its complexity (of subject matter) and simplicity (in words and pictures) be understood by all who read it.  We all want to be as brave and talented as Jackie Robinson and as brave and fair-minded (not to set aside the talented) as Pee Wee Reese.  These two baseball greats made history in more than one way – they helped change our world for the better.

Useful Resources:  Here are some additional resources to learn more about the Negro Leagues, the integration of major league baseball and James & Lisa Cline Ransome.

  1. Lisa Cline-Ransome’s website
  2. Negro League’s Baseball Museum
  3. Negro League’s Legacy
  4. Negro League’s Baseball Player’s Association
  5. “A Long Toss Back” (Smithsonian Magazine)
  6. Scholastic Lesson on Negro League’s (with a link to a “Breaking Barriers” essay contest for grades 4-9)  Essay deadline is March 14, 2014
  7. Negro League Baseball website
  8. National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum

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A Place to Reflect: Using a “Think Book”

think book photo

It’s that time of year:  pedagogy has been tossed out the window for worksheets, practice tests and practicing “extended response” or “writing to a prompt.”  High-stakes testing is the culprit.  Administrators and teachers themselves have a hard time trusting that the “learning” in their classroom is enough to prepare students for the standardized tests that will determine whether a school has made adequate yearly progress, a teacher “adds value” to the school, or a student is meeting benchmarks and is ready to tackle curriculum in the next grade up in the fall.  High stakes, indeed.

All the practice testing before the testing wearies the soul, even if it reassures administrators and teachers that students are READY to fill in the bubbles and write an essay that fits “the prompt.”  And admittedly – it is important to teach “Tests” as a reading genre unit of study prior to the big day. Click on the links below for pdf resources concerning this unit of study:

Standardized Tests as Genre     Grade 5 “Test Taking” Unit of Study Sample

Another option that just might be as valuable is using  interactive notebook/dialectical journal approach to enhance student critical thinking skills. During my last two years in the classroom, I utilized a “Think Book.” I want my students to ask questions, not just answer them.  I wanted them to think about and reflect on and write about (or draw about) information.  So I designed Think Book Labels for marble composition notebooks (discourages students from ripping out pages) and these books became sacred spaces used for capturing student-generated critical thinking.  Students were required to have their “Think Books” with them in every class and routinely they were needed for homework assignments.

So, what makes a book of pages a “Think Book?” In these pages, you will find a student’s work geared toward developing all levels of  what is defined as “critical thinking”:

Critical Thinking Skills

We used them to practice taking notes, to organize and analyze information, to write reflections, to create charts or visual depictions of concepts.  I loved using them for independent reading work and used a lot of the ideas from this book:

Independent-Reading-Inside-the-Box-9781551382258

Here is an example from the book which shows how to use graphic organizers in an intentional way to organize, observe and assess reading strategies to improve reading comprehension:

Reading Boxes

Think Books are flexible tools.  Here is a wikispace describing math and science interactive notebooks as a tool for inquiry-based learning:  Interactive-Math-Science-Notebooks.

Think Books can be created for each subject or Post-it Tabs can be used to divide the pages into sections for each subject.  Teachers need to keep their own Think Book which can be used to track assignments and to model possible entries.

And, although it is February, it’s probably not too late to introduce students to using these notebooks as annual standardized testing dates loom – if you’re not using them already.  Think Books can be valuable tools for assessing student skills and levels of growth.  I’ve seen a multitude of versions of “Think Books”  on the web and I think more precise terms would include:  Interactive Notebooks, Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) or Dialectical Journals.

Whatever you decide to call them, Think Books should be structured around the idea of students creating a portfolio of work that is creative, meaningful and uses higher level skill sets (see chart above).  The web is loaded with resources with structured ideas of how to create a Think Book that can be tailored to work in any classroom or at home (Parents: For the kids who just don’t get science or math or social studies – create a Think Book at Home that helps them work with information using the skills listed above).  I’ve listed some links at the end of this post that should help you work with notebooks for your classroom.

I can hear some rumbling in the back of my own teacher brain:  are you crazy?  It’s one month until standardized testing in Illinois schools and teachers don’t have time for this!  But maybe they do.  The work students do in a Think Book could help them navigate different portions of the test:  Science (what should fourth graders know?  seventh graders? Diagrams, Charts), Language Arts (literary devices, plot diagrams), Math (data analysis, graphs).  Those of you who love graphic organizers…use them in the notebook!  Here is a link to a great presentation on “foldable” graphic organizers (developed by Dinah Zike) which are three-dimensional graphic organizers – engaging and a great change of pace for the pencil and paper work of test prep:

Basic Foldables

Here is an example of a foldable:

grammar foldable

Engaging, thoughtful assignments can be created and kept in this Think Book.  And after testing?  Keep using them – a valuable overview of student work that will inform your assessments and teaching will be contained in them.  At the end of the year, let students take them or recycle them or save the best ones for your teaching portfolio – and to help you use authentic student work to inform your teaching for next year.

Students need to invest – and see the point of the Notebooks.  So…teachers should grade them.  Rubrics work well and again, depending on your approach, there are a wide variety of options available through a simple internet search.  Here is one that I think would be helpful in terms of thoughtful assessment and to inform instruction (how should I group these kids?  Do I have any Stage 3 kids?):

Science notebook rubricAnd next Fall, you just might be anxious to make them part of your curriculum and routines.  Think Books help students engage with, reflect upon, organize and process information covered in class in ways that are meaningful TO THEM.  Used effectively, I believe they empower students to be responsible for their own learning and are powerful repositories of assessment – for both teacher and student.  I think the possibilities are endless!!!

Please share your own Think Book/Interactive Notebook experiences in our comments section below!

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RESOURCES:  USEFUL LINKS FOR LEARNING ABOUT THINK BOOKS/INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS 

THE SCIENCE INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK (PPT)

EXAMPLE OF INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK  (YouTube Video)

HOW TO SET UP AN INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK (PPT)

THE ELA NOTEBOOK

IDEAS FOR NOTEBOOKS: CRITICAL THINKING ACTIVITIES