Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Five Writing Tips for Grades 3-8

Steven Layne is an author, lecturer, and associate professor who is passionate about books and literacy. If you get the chance to see him speak, RUN to where he is! And if you are on the look-out for a gift for a special language teacher in your life, look no further than this little gem of a book.

At the Michigan Reading Association annual conference this year, I had the privilege to hear Steven Layne for the second time. His presentation was on five writing tips and you can find a handout at his website: stevelayne.com

You will find many other good resource on Steven Layne's website. But in case you don't have time to look right now, let me outline his 5 writing tips in a nutshell:

1. Don't have students write a whole piece all the time.
Don't grade a complete piece all the time.
In other words, if you are working on creating good leads, have students write a variety of good leads without any plans for finishing them. And even if students do write a complete piece, you can choose certain elements to look for in assessing.

2. Use samples (including poor ones) often. Write your own.
This is one piece of advice that I see many teachers overlook. Students need to see samples of what we are asking them to write. Save samples over the years and look for samples in your reading. Look for mentor texts to share with students.

3. Write with them.
If you are asking them to write it, you should write it first. And don't worry if you think your writing isn't any good. I don't think that Shaq's coaches can play ball as well as he, but they can still coach him to play better!

4. Write in response to literature.
Doing this with students helps them to think deeper about what they are reading. And if you happen to be a content teacher, get them writing in response to math and science and social studies too! Writing is thinking!

5. Write for authentic audiences; together or separately.
Find ways to make writing real. Create a class blog to give your students a world-wide audience. Write letters: to the editor, to authors, to politicians, etc. Create class-made books to put in local doctor and dentist offices. Open up your thinking to come up with other ideas.

You can see that these are not Earth-shattering ideas. But if you follow these tips, you might see some Earth-shattering writing from your students! HAPPY WRITING!

Friday, April 16, 2010

To Pay or Not to Pay...

Yesterday, Ning broke the word that they would be discontinuing their free service of social network creation. In the world, that news was not even a pond ripple. I didn't see anything on the network news shows. Nobody I know "in-real-life" was talking about it. But in the virtual world, and especially on twitter, it was just about all I saw in my circle of followers/following.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to me anymore that the first things we humans do when it comes to change is panic. I didn't feel much, but I could tell that some members of my PLN were deeply affected. I know there are districts and individual teachers who use the ning network to keep in touch with families and students. I belong to several professional nings and place high value on the information and connections that I make through them.

I saw two distinct things happening after the news broke. The first thing I noticed was very disheartening. Members of my PLN began lining up on metaphorically "opposite sides." Some were expressing outrage at the news. I'm sure that is because they felt the panic of an impending change.

The outrage didn't last long, though I am sure that among many teachers, hard feelings toward Ning linger on. But the debate began by those on the other side. The ones asking if teachers who were complaining about having to pay for the service were just "gimmees" who think everything should be free? Or, they wondered, is it that those in the world of education are so out of touch that they don't understand capitalism and a free market economy? That is what a few people were posting on twitter. There were a couple of posts that verged on personal attacks. Thankfully, my PLN does live up to the "P" in the title: Professional.

My take on it is that teachers are not just sitting around waiting for hand-outs. And I believe that most teachers are fully aware that a business has to make money to stay in business. But teachers are also sharers. There are not many teachers who post their lesson plans on sites where they earn money when the plans are downloaded. Far more teachers post their plans, resources, and ideas freely on networks like a nings, blogs, or even their own websites where they PAY to have a web presence, allowing other educators to benefit from them at no cost. And many teachers already spend large amounts of their own money on their classrooms and their students. To be told, basically out of the blue, that a service they had been relying on was now going to have to be paid for, was probably an unwelcome shock. I can't blame them for complaining. I think of all the web tools I use at no cost and realize that I would have to do some major trimming if they all had a fee attached to them.

Today, I am happy to say that the negativity seems to have left my small branch of the twitter stream. What I am seeing today is lots of educators sharing resources of social networking sites that are similar in nature to ning, but still offered at no cost. And these educators aren't charging for the information. In my opinion, it is this open, sharing nature, the generosity of teachers, that rises to the top in all of this mess.