Tag Archives: best practices

Reading Strategies: A How-To for Teachers

At Thinkport you’ll find a pretty awesome series of online guides, videos, and tutorials aimed at making you a more effective teacher of reading strategies. What’s most amazing is that this site is actually aimed at middle school teachers, that oft-forgotten cadre of souls wedged between elementary and high school.

So what’s Thinkport? From the site:

Thinkport is the product of an on-going partnership between Maryland Public Television (MPT) and Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education (CTE), two of the most trusted names in Maryland education.

Thinkport aims to help teachers teach more effectively, inspire students to learn, build bridges between schools and homes, and fulfill Maryland Content Standards for education. We’re focused on harnessing technology in the service of education.

Well, I’m not from Maryland, but I absolutely love the Reading Strategies resources offered here. You first investigate discrete reading strategies through videos, interviews, and examples, and you’re then given printable aids to help incorporate those strategies in your classroom.

You then see these strategies in action, assisted by a teacher’s guide.

Finally, you see how reading skills can best be implemented using a number of online virtual field trips available from this site. Although many relate specifically to Maryland’s history, others can absolutely be used by anyone.

Lots to see here for both novices and pros!

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Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing

From the Dartmouth Writing Program at Dartmouth College, some great thoughts on Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing.

By no means is this is a stylish, high tech site, but if you look further into some of the links at the top, you’ll find even more great advice on assessing student writing.

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The Mother Lode!

A mother lode (yes, the spelling is correct; I even looked it up) is a rich and abundant source, usually of ores or minerals.

But in the case of the ReadKiddoRead ning, mother lode refers to a resource of over 100 lesson plans for both picture books and novels. This ning is the community site of James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead site, which provides tons of reading suggestions for kids, all categorized by age and genre.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a visual person, so I like that the ning has the lesson plans organized in an array of books covers. In addition to these plans, the ning also offers teachers and parents opportunities to share tips on motivating your readers through forums, groups, interviews, and lists.

Many of you know that I’m a member of many nings (ReadKiddoRead, Book Marketing Network, English Companion, NCTE, Teacher Librarian, Stenhouse Publishers, Writing Lesson of the Month, Elementary Tech Teachers, Elementary Teachers Network, and Classroom 2.0). Each one has its own strengths, and I’d recommend you try out a couple to see which is the best fit for you. If you happen to join any of these terrific nings, add me as a friend!

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Great Minds Thinking Alike

A couple months ago I mentioned the English Companion Ning. That group is now nearing 10,000 members, and I encourage you more than ever to get involved!

For those of you who don’t know much about Nings, here’s a quick Q and A from member Jennifer Ansbach.

What’s a Ning?
A ning is a closed social network, like a Myspace or Facebook with a restricted membership. You have a profile, a blog, and participate in forums and send/receive messages.

What is the English Companion Ning?
Started one year ago this week by English teaching guru Jim Burke, the English Companion Ning is a place to share resources, ask questions, and participate in online, self-directed professional development.

Why should I join?
Jim Burke has leveraged his author and professional connections to bring some of the leaders in English education to the ning. Members include not only Jim Burke but current NCTE president and author Carol Jago, outgoing NCTE president and author Kylene Beers, and others who publish about best practices. Each month there is a professional book club, with an online discussion led by the author. Past books included Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide and Tom Newkirk’s Holding on to Good Ideas in Times of Bad Ones. This month’s book club on improving student writing features Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them.

There are forums devoted to specific topics, with people posting their handouts, lesson plans, and strategies. In addition, there is a place to seek help for questions or for support. Yesterday someone asked what to do when your urban students admit they think you are a pushover. Within a few hours, several people had offered solid advice and resources. Earlier this year, a teacher posted about celebrating with his student teacher, putting her in her car, and having a truck kill her instantly around the corner. That teacher found a place to share his grief and also received help and ideas for putting together a fitting tribute to the young woman (his students had written letters to her that he hadn’t given to her–he crafted a eulogy of the students’ own words about what she meant to them).

It’s free to join. Just sign up on englishcompanion.ning.com. Jim Burke pays the $25 a month to keep it running and does not accept any advertising on the site. I am not a paid promoter. This week, as the ECNing celebrates its first birthday, it has 9,700 members and Jim is hoping to reach 10,000 this week. He asked us to make sure our colleagues are aware of the ning and what it has to offer.

Thanks, Jennifer! Well articulated. This ning is perfect for those of us engaged in the sometimes lonely business of teaching Reading and Language Arts!

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Teaching Metaphorically

In response to my prior post about Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject, I received an email from Adriana who asked, “Can you give an example of a metaphorical lesson? Not a lesson that teaches about metaphors, but a lesson that uses the idea.”

While I had a few ideas, I thought the best way might be to show a lesson in action. Check out this clip from Mr. Langhorst’s 8th grade in Liberty, Missouri. It’s a perfect example of an extended metaphor.

I love this approach! In my third and fourth grades, where I’ve taught the Revolutionary War as well, I’ve taken a slightly different approach. Students were presented with a letter from the school board, announcing that due to last year’s low test scores several drastic measures would be put into place: extended school hours, summer school for all students below a 3.5 average, school on Saturdays, and no more Physical Education. Students became quite upset that neither they not their parents were in attendance at this meeting, and that they were being punished for last year’s bad scores (purely fictitious as well). Seeing how distraught my students were, I graciously allowed them to draft letters to the testing coordinator (Mr. Itzal LaSham) expressing their feelings. Without fail, students created the most articulate, persuasive writing of their lives! When read aloud, the letters of protest were impassioned and convincing.

But then I wondered aloud, “I’m not sure if we should have done this. Perhaps Mr. LaSham will get upset, and call your parents. Are you guys really willing to take that risk?” Out come the erasers, but not for all. Most students are so adamant in their beliefs that they refuse to erase their names, no matter what the consequences!

It’s usually at this point, although sometimes much earlier, that some student will exclaim, “This is exactly what happened to the colonists! We’re being forced to live by rules that we didn’t help to make.” And eventually, of course, I do let students in on the secret: The letter is fictitious, and so is the testing director (Mr. It’s All a Sham). We then discuss the similarity between their letters and the Declaration of Independence. Both documents express extreme dissatisfaction, but the latter is further expressing outright rebellion. Should the colonists lose this war, the bold Declaration will serve as King George’s hanging list.

In nearly twenty years of implementing this lesson, students have been faithful to not share it with their siblings or friends, and each year’s new class faithfully falls for the trick: hook, line, and sinker. But the real payoff is that years later, when students return from high school and college to visit, they’ll ask, “Did you do the letter yet?” and they’ll vividly recall every aspect of the lesson, including (here’s the clincher!) its point.

Now that’s a lesson that sticks.

If you’re a social studies teacher, check out Eric Langhorst’s blog for more great resources and insights. You may also want to check out the six elements of “stickiness” found in Dan and Chip Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

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Metaphorically Speaking

Metaphors and AnalogiesStenhouse has put out a new book that I can’t recommend enthusiastically enough. Rick Wormeli’s Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject adds to the canon of distinguished titles which deal with the topic of metaphor. His work, however, is so far the most practical title I’ve seen on the topic, offering teachers simple steps for improving their instruction through the use of metaphors and analogies. Every page provides subject-specific examples, allowing readers to easily understand the real-life applications to the classroom.

My own forays into this topic began with George Lakoff’s now-classic Metaphors We Live By, which plainly illustrated the pervasiveness of metaphor in everyday language. While critics argued that the book was not well supported with research, just a brief look into its pages will convince Metaphors We Live Byany reader that what Lakoff was attempting to prove through discourse alone was pretty self-evident (once exposed) and pretty remarkable as well. People do speak unconsciously in metaphors, all the time, and the metaphors they choose can tell us a lot about their preconceptions, perspectives, and prejudices on a topic. My personal copy of Metaphors We Live By contains hardly a page not scribbled with a comment or question; it did profoundly influence the way in which I approached reading and language arts instruction.

Next came Marcel Danesi’s Poetic Logic: The Role of Metaphor in Thought, Language, and Culture, which was arguably more research based than Poetic LogicMetaphors We Live By. Discovering the scientific and linguistic basis for everything Lakoff argued reinforced for me that metaphorical language is neither coincidental nor arbitrary. In Danesi’s own words:

The main goal of this book has been to take the reader on an excursion through an amalgam of facts, ideas, and illustrations that reveal how poetic logic works in making the world visible and thus understandable in human terms. Metaphor is a trace to poetic thinking, which constantly creates connections among things. This is why metaphors and metaforms have such emotional power—they tie people together, allowing them to express a common sense of purpose in an interconnected fashion.

What Rick Wormeli now brilliantly accomplishes through Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject might be seen as a currency exchange. He takes the “hundred dollar ideas” of Lakoff and Danesi and turns them into “spending money” for the classroom. Wormeli shows how students can use metaphors to make connections between the concrete and the abstract, prior knowledge and new concepts, and language and image (neither Lakoff nor Danesi discussed visual metaphors at any length). Wormeli also goes beyond the passive museum experience of “let’s notice and appreciate the beauty of metaphors” to a workshop mentality of “let’s throw some clay on the wheel and see what we can form on our own.” Ultimately, his work is an impressive how-to on the subject.

But what’s in it for teachers of literature? So many of Wormeli’s examples are based in math, social studies, and science that Reading and Language Arts teachers might wonder what’s in it for them.

Rather than construct an argument, let me instead offer a simple example. FlippedBelow is an excerpt from Wendelin Van Draanen’s Flipped (grade level equivalent 5.5). How many single and extended metaphors can you spot? And more importantly, what additional (between the lines) information can they provide if the reader is alert enough to notice them?

My sister, on the other hand, tried to sabotage me any chance she got. Lynetta’s like that. She’s four years older than me, and buddy, I’ve learned from watching her how not to run your life. She’s got ANTAGONIZE written all over her. Just look at her – not cross-eyed or with your tongue sticking out or anything – just look at her and you’ve started an argument.

I used to knock-down-drag-out with her, but it’s just not worth it. Girls don’t fight fair. They pull your hair and gouge you and pinch you; then they run off gasping to mommy when you try and defend yourself with a fist. Then you get locked into time-out, and for what? No, my friend, the secret is, don’t snap at the bait. Let it dangle. Swim around it. Laugh it off. After a while they’ll give up and try to lure someone else.

At least that’s the way it is with Lynetta. And the bonus of having her as a pain-in-the-rear sister was figuring out that this method works on everyone. Teachers, jerks at school, even Mom and Dad. Seriously. There’s no winning arguments with your parents, so why get all pumped up over them? It is way better to dive down and get out of the way than it is to get clobbered by some parental tidal wave.

The funny thing is, Lynetta’s still clueless when it comes to dealing with Mom and Dad. She goes straight into thrash mode and is too busy drowning in the argument to take a deep breath and dive for calmer water.

And she thinks I’m stupid.

The fact is, for students to read with comprehension and appreciation, they must be able to recognize and dissect both simple and complex analogies. And for students to be able to explain their own understandings of difficult concepts (no matter what the discipline), they must be able to describe those concepts through metaphors and analogies.

I highly recommend Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject for teachers looking to advance their own practice as teaching professionals. As always, Stenhouse offers you a preview of the entire book at their site.

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In Search of the Novel

In Search of the Novel is a series of 8 one hour videos produced by Annenberg Media. From the series introduction:

Discover creative strategies for bringing novels to life for middle and high school students with this workshop, featuring the words and works of 10 novelists, including Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, J. K. Rowling, and Toni Morrison. Within the framework of real classroom practice, the workshop offers interviews with contemporary authors, literary critics, teachers, and students, as well as film clips from adaptations of the novels featured. In Search of the Novel poses basic questions that can help you examine the genre from multiple perspectives and bring it to life for your students.

If you’re a teacher serious about implementing an engaging experience with novels, this free on-line resource is a must-see. As a first time user you are required to sign up, but that’s it. You can then view the videos at your leisure with no software or video player downloads needed.

You also have the option to purchase the series on DVD or VHS with learning guides. This would make a great topic for a professional study group at the middle or high school level.

A synopsis of the individual workshops is listed below:

Workshop 1. Who Owns the Novel?
(illustrating how each reader makes a novel his or her own, depending on the reader’s culture, class, generation, gender, and personality)

Workshop 2. What’s the Story?
(how an author spins a story and why it is the most important aspect of the novel)

Workshop 3. Are Novels Real?
(must a novel bear some likeness to reality?)

Workshop 4. Where Do Novels Come From?
(the genesis of characters, plot, themes, and interpretation from the novelist’s point of view)

Workshop 5. Why Do I Have To Read This Book?
(the workshop’s ten novels are examined to see why they appear on recommended reading lists; also reasons for reading)

Workshop 6. What’s in It for Me?
(ways to help students respond to novels on deeply personal levels)

Workshop 7. Who Am I in This Story?
(examining the complex ways readers identify with characters in a novel)

Workshop 8. Am I Getting Through?
(teachers examine their effectiveness in helping students comprehend and appreciate novels; teachers also discuss and demonstrate strategies for evaluation)

9 and 10. Authors’ Notes
(contemporary authors — including Orson Scott Card, Horton Foote, Ernest Gaines, Arthur Golden, Daniel Keyes, Katherine Paterson, J. K. Rowling, and Leslie Marmon Silko — reveal even more of their own writing process)

In Search of the Novel is a little-known gem which you’ll come to treasure!

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