Reading Comprehension 101: Five Strategies for Scaffolding Challenging Texts for Not-English Teachers

Welcome, Teachers!

A few weeks ago, our instructional coach Val Hoose asked me to help her plan and run a professional development session on reading comprehension for teachers who teach math, science, social studies, and various electives, as well as for new and experienced English language arts teachers. I readily agreed.

Below, you’ll find all of the information from our professional development session, as well as links to various resources you may share with your colleagues. You may also participate in our professional development session from the comfort of your own home! Just follow the directions below! Continue reading

Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week Two

Greetings, Quillers and Thrillers!

Welcome back to Quills and Thrills: Creative Writing for the Google Generation! If you were here last week, I hope you got your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledge and permission form signed by your parents because this week’s prompt is all about building your online presence!

If you are new to Quills and Thrills this week, welcome! You can check out last week’s prompt here, or just jump right into this week’s. Before you start building your online presence, however, you need to review the Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledge and permission form with your parents and turn it in as soon as possible.

Dont have your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship permission form signed yet? No worries, you can still create the tools needed to build your online presence and set them aside until you get that permission form signed.

Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge

Prime your mind for creative thinking every week with the Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge! Check out the rules for the weekly challenge before playing.

Submit your weekly entry to Twitter using #QuillsandThrillsFLTD!

New Experience: Chewing Cotton Balls!

A small percentage of writing happens with a pen in your hand or a keyboard under your fingers. In fact, the bulk of writing happens through new experiences both profound and mundane. After all, how can you write about exciting new adventures without having a few adventures yourself?  Continue reading

Have you heard about Quills and Thrills yet?

Want to know more? Read all about it at What is Quills and Thrills?

Ready to start the first writing prompt? Check it out at Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week One!

Download a printable version of the Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship Pledge and Permission Form today!

Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week One

Good afternoon, Thrillers!

Welcome to Quills and Thrills: Creative Writing for the Google Generation! Not sure what Quills and Thrills is?  Find out here!

Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge

Prime your mind for creative thinking every week with the Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge! Check out the rules for the weekly challenge before playing.

Thanks to @SSMindSchool for this week’s challenge!

Five Minute Burn

Your first writing prompt will require pre-writing using a nifty method I like to call a “five-minute burn.” Here’s how it works: I’ll set a timer for five minutes. As soon as I say go, you will start writing without stopping until the five minutes are up. If you run out of things to write about, simply write “IDK IDK IDK” over and over again until something comes to you. The trick is to keep your pencil moving. Don’t worry about erasing errors or scratching out mistakes. Just ignore them and KEEP WRITING!

image

Ready for your prompt? Here it is: How would you define writing and why is it important to you?

If you’re following along at home, use the video below to keep track of your time.

Time is up! How did you do? Take a moment to reread your burn. If you come across a phrase or word that you really like, underline it.

Now, we’re going to revise our burn to be a publishable piece of writing. Here’s your new prompt: Use imagery and figurative language to define the importance of writing in your life.

Before you start revising your burn, check out two tricks of the writing trade below to help you jazz up your writing a bit.

Continue reading

Pinterest 101

Only the cool kids are invited…

Like many people, I didn’t really feel the need to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, but then I had to do a presentation on how to use social networking in the classroom. Pinterest is the third most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter, and so, for the sake of research, I joined Pinterest. But here’s the thing: you can’t just join Pinterest because you want to join Pinterest. You have to be invited. I was slightly annoyed that I had to wait to start pinning stuff, especially because I had to wait only two weeks after requesting an invite. Good grief.

While setting up my Pinterest account I was pleased to see that I could link the account to either my Facebook or Twitter account. One less username and password combination to remember sounded great to me (although I usually use the same ones over and over again. Shh, don’t tell). I decided to go with my Facebook account since I am still getting used to Twitter, but Facebook and Pinterest must be in cahoots with one another because that dang Pinterest tricked me into getting Facebook’s timeline profile. Grumble grumble.

Regardless of the initial inconveniences, Pinterest is my new addiction. Before joining Pinterest I had seen an eCard that mentioned drinking wine while looking at Pinterest all day, so for the sake of research, I decided to pour myself a glass of Pinot Noir before diving into the world of Pinterest. Two hours and three glasses of wine later, I realized I had to stop wasting time on Pinterest and take care of my big girl responsibilities like doing the dishes and feeding the cat.

How it works

Basically, Pinterest gives people the ability to “pin” things they find on the internet to different boards. Think of these Pinterest boards as being digital bulletin boards, and you can have multiple boards to help you to organize your pins. Initially, I didn’t know what the topics of my boards should be, but Pinterest is nice enough to give you some ideas as soon as you sign up.

My Pinterest Boards

I now have a board for classroom stuff, a board for workout ideas, a board for literary references (this is currently my largest board, full of entertaining images referring to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, and The Outlander Series. I also have a few random book covers in there for good measure), and a board that I call “Bumper Stickers”. You may or may not remember when Facebook had a bumper sticker application about three years ago; this is basically the same idea. The great thing about boards is that you can do whatever you want with them. Get creative!

My “Literary References” Board

Stalk me on Pinterest!

Like Twitter you “follow” people on Pinterest instead of “friend” them. I had no clue as to whom l should follow when I signed up, but Pinterest was nice enough to suggest people to follow based on what I marked as my interests. This made my initial pinning experience a bit worldlier since I could see the pins of people I had never met. Soon after, I learned that since my Pinterest account was linked with my Facebook account, I could automatically follow all of my Facebook friends who also had a Pinterest account.

Pinterest Home Screen

If you follow someone on Pinterest, their pins automatically pop up on your home screen, much like posts on a wall on Facebook. You can “like” someone’s pin, or you can leave a comment on someone’s pin, however I’ve noticed that simply repinning a pin is the most common method of recognition.

So…what’s the point?

The purpose of Pinterest is not to share witty thoughts about everyday occurrences, nor is its purpose to share photos and news articles to document the events of an individual’s life. Instead, Pinterest aims to share various types of media such as photos, videos, websites, infographics, and more, with people who have similar interests. And I wonder sometimes if Pinterest aims to take over the world by distracting its users from their personal responsibilities in life…kind of like this Hulu commercial.

Teachers Can Use Pinterest for the Classroom

While I just sold Pinterest as an entertaining way to spend uneventful evenings, it does hold some potential for education. Teachers are using it to find ideas for their classrooms, but students are also using it as an instructional scaffold or as a form of assessment. As a language arts teacher, I am particularly interested in using Pinterest while teaching a novel. I imagine my students creating boards for the protagonist and the antagonist(s) of a novel and a board for the setting. Perhaps we could have a class board for the different books my students are reading independently, or a board for atrocious grammar mistakes the students see around town. The possibilities are only as limited as your creativity. To help inspire some new ideas, I have included this great infographic about how other teachers are using Pinterest.

 

Want to read more about how teachers can use Pinterest professionally? Check out this awesome post by Donna Miller Fry.

iTube? No…YouTube!

I love YouTube. I am not the type of person who uses it every day or spends hours watching different videos, but I love how easy it is to find great videos and share them with my friends. Usually, I will get to YouTube videos through Facebook or Google, but once I am there I will watch a few of the recommended videos and post them to my Facebook page. However, I do try to be selective with what I share.

According to Zwiers and Crawford in Academic Conversations, “popular modes of communication, such as video, podcasts, written texts, music, and images are mostly ‘one-way.’” (2011) They argue that these types of videos have a static message that cannot be adjusted after conversations, so to speak, with their viewers. I originally expressed my disagreement with this statement in my blog, which you can read here.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I read Prensky’s article, which states “Perhaps the thing about You Tube that is least understood by people who do not use it regularly is that it is not just one way, or one-to-many, communication; it is designed to be, and very much is, two-way…Many users post ideas and opinions, looking for feedback, and many get large numbers of responses to their clips.”

Well, well, well! Take that Zwiers and Crawford!

One trendy video topic is Sh*t (Social Groups) Say. I first saw one of these videos, “Sh*t Girls Say”, when visiting a couple of my friends. They could not stop laughing and joking about it, so they showed me the video. I thought it was funny, but I wasn’t as amused by it as they were. I didn’t think about it again until earlier this week when a friend from college posted “Sh*t Burqueños Say” on her Facebook wall. As a “Burqueña” I decided to watch the video.

I watched the video on Tuesday, and I loved it – not only because my students say this stuff all the time, but because I say it too. I linked the video to my Facebook wall, and by the next day the video had over 150,000 hits and forty-eight pages of comments. When I had first watched the video, it had less than one hundred hits. Now, according to my super-secret source, part two is in the works.

I think that one of the fallacies in Zwiers and Crawford’s argument is that they are looking at communication as being between two or more people, with one of the communicators being the original creator of the content. Their argument, simply put, is that the person who created the video, podcast, or blog must be engaged in the subsequent conversations – but this isn’t actually what happens.

Instead, the subsequent conversations occur between completely different people. The content creator (or facilitator) may chime in occasionally by responding to comments or posting a follow-up video, but most of the communication happens between the viewers. In the world of YouTube, the viewer’s respond through published means such as comments, similar videos, Facebook and Twitter shares, blog mentions, and more, but they also respond through unpublished means such as face-to-face conversations with friends, family, and co-workers.

Isn’t this what we want to happen both in and out of the classroom? The students, sparked by the teacher, drive the conversations while the teacher sits back and listens and silently assesses, only intervening when beneficial to the students. The important thing is that the students are talking about and responding to information that is read, heard, and viewed (and yes, that is a direct quote from the New Mexico ELA Content Standards).

Perhaps now I need to make a video titled “Sh*t Teachers Say.”Oh, never-mind, it already exists.

*Disclaimer*

I am not suggesting that we show these particular videos in schools. I am merely thinking about the sociological and educational implications of these videos. That said, it would be interesting to have students create a video of this nature about what characters say in a novel or story as a lesson on characterization.

You can watch some of these videos below (but keep in mind, some of them are stereotypical and offensive).

Sh*t Brides Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut8kwaKvZc0

Sh*t New Yorkers Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRvJylbSg7o

Sh*t People Say on Facebook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVQeB_LlmRI

Sh*t Burqueños Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IucBp1yrr7A&feature=share

Sh*t New Mexicans Don’t Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndbjEvN8AtM&feature=related

Sh*t Teachers Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLXfwvaBXLc

Digital Conversations: Pros and Cons (Well, mostly pros)

As an English Language Arts teacher one of the tools I rely on is my students’ ability to discuss writing and literature in an appropriate manner. I teach seventh grade. My students are professionals at inappropriate behavior.

When I try to facilitate class discussions, they usually do one of two things:

1) They clam up and suddenly become fascinated with whatever is under their grubby fingernails, or…

2) They all shout out ideas at once, competing with each other instead of bouncing ideas off of each other.

The first scenario is not as common as the second, which is a good thing. With the second, at least my students are excited and thinking about the topic. The thing is, I often feel like the basket in a game of basketball – but instead of the players working together, every player is trying to grab the ball (my attention and approval) and make a basket by sharing their ideas without any help from their teammates. In basketball this is catastrophic. It has similar results in the classroom.

My solution was to use My Big Campus’ discussion feature as a way to force the students to talk to each other instead of to me. Unfortunately, this did not work out as I had hoped. When planning the lesson I blissfully envisioned a discussion similar to those I have on Facebook with fellow teachers, or those that take place in a college environment. It wasn’t until after implementing the lesson that I realized how naïve my expectations were.

The students had no problems posting their ideas to the discussion. The hitch came when they started commenting on each other’s posts. Instead of questioning each other or adding to each other’s ideas, the students became very complimentary of one another. They also became grammar Nazis.

At first, I found it sweet when a student would post, “good idea” or “you did a good job.” I was ecstatic when I read, “make sure you capitalize your I’s” and “you used the wrong there – it is their not there.” However I soon realized that they weren’t thinking deeply about what the other students were saying. Instead, they were using the compliments as a cop-out to thinking critically about their responses.

Two hundred notifications later, I realized that I am still the basketball hoop, my students are still competing, but now they all have their own basketballs to shoot. Duck for cover!

This led me to the realization that I can’t expect my students to lead productive discussions in class or on the computer without first teaching them the appropriate skills. Whether typing or speaking, the students need to know how to bounce ideas off of each other without dominating and how to ask clarifying questions such as “can you elaborate on that” or “can you give me an example?” The skills are the same no matter what medium we use.

Time to hit the books (so to speak).

Expert Advice

I have a book called Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford (2011) which identifies five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting:

1) Elaborate and clarify

2) Support ideas with examples

3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas

4) Paraphrase

5) Synthesize conversation points

It hadn’t occurred to me just how much academic conversations rely on the higher order thinking skills from Bloom’s Taxonomy until I read that chapter.

I continued to read, but was disturbed when the Zwiers and Crawford argued that technology was not a good tool for developing academic conversational skills. They argue that because of the lack of face-to-face communication with digital discussions, “exploration of a topic, the building of ideas, and emotional connections are often missing.” They also argue that “popular modes of communication…are mostly ‘one-way’ [and] do not adjust their messages or negotiate meanings with their viewers” (2011).

I stopped reading Academic Conversations. I disagree with their claims that the lack of face-to-face communication does more harm than good and that digital modes of communication have static meanings. Instead of fighting technology integration, the authors should be asking how students can use technology to explore topics and build ideas.

The toxic statements ate away at my brain for a few days until today, when I stumbled upon an article called “The Must Have Guide to Helping Technophobic Teachers” by Dr. Abir Qasem and Tanya Gupta. They argue that “using technology in education is about redesigning pedagogy by taking advantage of available technology, and not just substituting faculty time with technology.”

Qasem and Gupta go on to argue that technology actually facilitates productive conversations instead of hindering it. The reasoning behind this is two-fold:

1) Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own

2) People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”)

*Read these statements with caution*

Do not assume that all group work is bad. Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop his or her own ideas before coming together as a group.

UNM taught me that group work is a valuable strategy for encouraging all students to participate. Group work can also be a great tool for teaching students to think outside the box and value different perspectives.

But here is the thing: according to the “The Rise of the New Groupthink” by Susan Cain, brainstorming sessions stifle creativity instead of stimulating it. Woah.

Apparently, “when we take a stance [that is] different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.” (Cain, 2012)

This makes sense, considering what most of our students want most is to be accepted by their peers (want proof? Click here).

But how does all of this information apply to both spoken and typed class discussions? I am getting there, but first I will condense the information into a list of facts for your sanity and for mine:

  • Students lack academic conversational skills and need explicit instruction in these skills.
  • There are five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting: 1) Elaborate and clarify 2) Support ideas with examples 3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas 4) Paraphrase 5) Synthesize conversation points.
  • Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own.
  • People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”).
  • Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop their own ideas or part of a project before coming together as a group.
  • When people take a stance that is different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.
  • Adolescents are constantly seeking social recognition and acceptance from their peers.

So here is the whammy: Digital discussions enable students to think independently while also being socially rewarded by their peers.

But first, in order for them to be effective, I have to teach my students how to pick each other’s brains effectively…and because they use similar conversational skills as speaking when typing, I will once again pick up Academic Conversations (and ignore the technology bashing sections). Perhaps in doing so, my students will start to discuss as a team, bouncing ideas off of each other before shooting for the basketball hoop. Swoosh!

Wish me luck!

Works Cited

Cain, Susan. “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” The Sunday Review. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&gt;.

Gopnik, Alison. “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind? – WSJ.com.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html?fb_ref=wsj_share_FB&gt;.

Quasem, Abir, and Tanya Gupta. “The Must-Have Guide To Helping Technophobic Teachers | Edudemic.” Edudemic. Edudemic, 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012..

Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011. Print.