Written Conversations

I’ve been working on the best and most engaging way to have my students use written conversations to discuss literature.  When students discuss verbally, often the shy students hang back and don’t engage.  Plus, as I circulate around the classroom I get an idea of how discussions are going, but I really have no data to use for formative assessment.

I’ve tried Collaborize Classroom, which I love, but it was not as free-flowing as I would like.  I think it is best used for an asynchronous discussion for homework.

In the past, I’ve had students write in their notebooks and then pass them to each other which works fairly well, but the writing takes up a fair amount of time and slows down the discussion.

Recently I tried Today’s Meet, which is a backchannel site, and I am flag-waving fan.  It’s super simple to work.  You name your room (see screenshot), give your students the link, and you’re ready to roll.

I first tried it out in a professional development workshop I delivered and it was a rousing success.  Many teachers added to the conversation and made the presentation much richer through their participation.

In my class we first tried a whole class (19 students) discussion on Today’s Meet, which was a total disaster.  A discussion with the class divided into two halves was doable, but I’m going to set up rooms for each of my table groups next time.  You can save the transcript of the discussions and use them to teach discussion skills or use them for assessments.

The more things change…

…the more they stay the same.

My sister recently gave me four “Miss Read” books, part of a series written by an English country teacher.  I was reading Village Diary, written in 1957, and had to laugh at the following as it could be said today:

The child today, used as he is to much praise and encouragement, finds it much more difficult to keep going as his task gets progressively long.  Helping children to face up to a certain amount of drudgery, cheerfully and energetically is one of the biggest problems that teachers, in these days of ubiquitous entertainment, have to face in our schools; and the negative attitude, in so many homes, of “How-much-money-can-I-get-for-how-little-work?” does nothing to help them in their daily battle.

Action Research: Argument Reading and Writing

I just finished my Master’s Degree in Literacy at UNE–and my last project was so exciting.  I did an action research project about instituting the Common Core Standards at my school–Country Day School in Escazu, Costa Rica.  I focused on teaching close reading skills, using higher text complexity levels for short text, and argument writing.  It was a ball!  Here’s a link to the Action Research Paper.

Argument Reading and Writing

Since we’re implementing the CCSS at my International school in Costa Rica, I had to quickly study up on argument reading and writing.  I’d taught persuasive writing (letters and editorials) but never really taught argument writing.  I turned to George Hillocks, Jr., one of my go to guys, and he did not disappoint.

His book is written for grades 6-12, and I’m pretty much using the whole first half of the book which is about the basics of argument writing for my 6th grade unit.

  • For arguments of fact, we are studying mystery scenarios and writing up police reports which make a claim (who’s guilty) that is based oon evidence.  This is a great way to get the students engaged in close reading without having to push it as every word is important in solving the mystery.
  • For arguments of judgment, we will start with what makes a good mascot, move on to what makes a good leader, and move into the presidential race of today.
  • Students have yet to choose the argument of policy they’re going to make to change a rule here at our school.  There seems to be growing interest in banning uniforms.  The students will work on this in small groups.

But Mr. Hillocks does not stop there.  The whole second section of the book is amazing and gets more and more conceptually difficult.  There’s two more resources we’ll use later in the unit.  One is ProCon.org, an independent non-partisan website that looks at the pros and cons of controversial issues.  Another is FactCheck.org, another independent non-partisan website that looks for what is true and not true in the news.  They’re having a heyday with both candidates after the debates.

Assessing Assessment: Using the CURRV Method

I just finished my master’s in literacy course about assessment.  There are two big take-aways that we all agreed on, and today I’ll write about the first–the CURRV method of assessing your assessments.

Consequences of Assessment:  Reading assessments must have the consequence of helping students develop as readers.  There are many consequences–both positive and negative–of reading assessments ranging from increased student self-esteem to robbing valuable teaching time from the students.

Usefulness of Assessment:  We need all types of assessments, but we need to determine their usefulness before we give it.  At my last school we had to give spelling inventories to our students–an assessment I always found quite useful for informing instruction and creating a snapshot of each student from varied assessments.  I recently found out that many teachers had no idea why we gave the assessment and so it was useless to them.

Roles and Responsibilities Realated to Assessment:  Teacher roles may include encouraging students to take the test seriously or teaching the testing genre to the student.  Students roles may include preparing to take the assessment.

Reliability of Assessment:  Is the assessment going to be affected by teacher state of mind?  Then it is not reliable unless checks and balances are put into place to make assessment practices consistent.

Validity of Assessment:  The intuitive test of validity is asking the question, “Is this worth the time?”

This is an extremely truncated explanation of the CURRV method, and you can find more in Peter Afflerbach’s book, Understanding and Using REading Assessment K-12.


Could You Help By Taking This Quick Survey?

I made this survey for a class project at the University of New England.  I designed it for teachers at InterAmerican Academy in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but would love to hear what anyone else has to say about assessment in their schools.  Puh-lease take a minute to fill it out.


How the Brain Learns to Read

Below you’ll find an extremely simplified diagram of what happens in the brain when we learn to read.

Adams, M. J. (2011). The relation between alphabetic basics, word recognition, and reading. In S. Samuels & A. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (pp. 4-24).

It’s Reflection Time Again, You’re Gonna Leave Me

I know it’s silly, but as my students leave each day I sing to them (decidedly off key), “Oh, it’s crying time again, you’re gonna’ leave me.”  Many of them beam with joy that I’m going to miss them.

It’s that time of the school year for reflection–for us and for our students.  Here’s a visual created by Peter Pappas for a taxonomy of reflection that would be helpful for all of us.  Read more about it on his blog.