“Writing is the New Black” and other highlights from my workshop with Ruth Culham

IMG_7174(1)As part of the graduate school course I took this summer in Fairfield University’s Reading and Language Development Program, I had the distinct pleasure of spending two full days with Ruth Culham,  author of The Writing Thief  and many other books and materials to support the teaching of writing. Her energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and she immediately hooked us in with…

Did you know, writing is the new black? It’s the “hot new thing…” 

We all know it’s not a new thing… but we need to make it “hot” again. Ruth promised to share strategies, common language, activities and materials to help all the educators in the room do this. She did not disappoint!

Here are my top 10 highlights from the day:

    1. “If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts and rework raw information… and communicate it to someone else.”  If students are to learn, THEY MUST WRITE.”  
    2.  Can a 6-year-old write a complete story? YES! “Temporary spelling” is OK!
    3. 6 + 1 Writing Traits give us a language to communicate with students about their writing. They make revision and editing tangible for teachers. Spiral each trait, don’t go through them in order.

 

      1. IDEAS: Content of the piece- the central message and details that support that message. Bring in any examples that are good for kids
      2. ORGANIZATION: Internal structure of the piece – the thread of logic, the pattern of meaning.
      3. IMG_7178(1)VOICE: Tone and tenor of the piece — the personal stamp of the writer, which is achieved through a strong understanding of purpose and audience. Use a highlighter to show students where their voice is starting to come through.
      4. WORD CHOICE: vocabulary the writer uses to convey meaning and enlighten the reader. This happens during read alouds…stop and point it out.
      5. SENTENCE FLUENCY: The way words and phrases flow through the piece. It is the auditory trait because its “read” with the ear as much as the eye.  LISTEN to the piece. Read above their reading level. Things that are cool and different.
      6. CONVENTIONS: Mechanical correctness of the piece. Correct use of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, paragraphing, and grammar and usage) guides the reader through the text easily.

(+1) PRESENTATION: Physical appearance of the piece. A visually appealing text provides a welcome mat. It invites the reader in.

4. BEST ADVICE TO TEACHERS: “Squeeze it once and let it go!” 

Kids cannot handle too many things… can’t take it in. Set ONE goal. Let them practice a specific skill. Hard for teachers to let it go… Less is more. Keep it simple. Don’t feel frustrated about how much there is to teach. Learning how to take one element and work it over is one of the new secrets…makes you less stressed and the kids get it.

5. When you get students involved in the writing process, writing improves. When students give effective feedback to peers in the process, writing improves. Teachers tend to take papers home because traditional peer feedback didn’t work. Give students a specific task to give feedback on. Example: “Sentence beginnings…”  “Go back and find the sentences that start with I and revise a few of them.” Don’t make the kids re-write their piece over and over again.

Here are scoring guides for K, Grades 1 – 2, and Grades 3 – 12, as well as “light” versions for students to assess themselves. Click here to view.

6. Conferring takes time. Harder to schedule. Do the over the shoulder little conferences to give feedback with a highlighter.  Goal should be that they can move on without you. Teach them to be self-reliant. Use phrases like:

  • “Consider adding a few more details….”
  • Suggest ONE thing — that makes them feel doable.
  • Refer specifically to the “trait” during feedback. Every time you are using it, it is teaching the student about it.
  • Resist using the word BUT. “Next, now, lets try… ” words that encourage

7. The purposes for writing.

  • Tell a story.
  • Provide information.
  • Construct an argument.

Descriptive has been removed as a mode. It should be taught within these others. It needs to be taught, but it doesn’t stand alone with these big “dudes.”

8. Be wary of “Curriculum by Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers.”  Use those sites for resources with a narrow lens. Active learning. Something MEATY. Here are some additional resources from Culham Writing.

9. What happens when you teach conventions using worksheets?  Students get all the questions right. There is a disconnect between worksheets and independent work. Does not transpose into independent work.

Why grammar worksheets don’t work: 

  • They make the lessons task oriented rather learning oriented.
  • Emphasize quantity over quality.
  • Teacher directed activity.
  • Unchallenging
  • Create dependents, not independence.
  • Invite conformity
  • Prevent students from devising their own ways of documenting understanding.
  • Create more work for teachers
  • Waste paper money and precious instructional time.

** There was a time when worksheets were effective. (Late 60’s early 70s).

Use Writing Wallet (instead of a worksheet).

You need: a file folder, two pieces of writing paper, a pen.

  • Decorate folder.
  • Have students create 2 – 4 raw writing pieces.
  • Choose one trait after a mini-lesson (model using a mentor text) and have the students find and correct that feature within their own writing. (for examples, transition words…. Word choice.)
  • One trait at a time!

Use different colors, highlighters, let it be messy!  After a while, have students choose a piece and clean it up… show it as BEFORE and AFTER.

10. We need to agree upon common language in teaching writing.  We understand and accept that people don’t like change but it’s not working the way it is. REALLY IMPORTANT. It’s not about us, it’s about our students. We need to build the bridge from the language from grade to grade!

Loved these two days! I left with a deeper knowledge of writing instruction and some great activities and resources to bring back to my school. The Trait Crates are awesome and well worth a look! Incredibly teacher-friendly — fantastic mentor texts with lessons aligned with each writing trait. Also worth a look is Dream Wakers: Mentor Texts That Celebrate Latino Culture.

I’ll leave you with this powerful quote from Pam Allyn that Ruth shared. It underscores the importance of the relationship between reading and writing. We need both to live! 

“Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.” – Pam Allyn

Thank you @WritingThief  and Fairfield University!

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Three things to do before heading to #NAISAC 2017

img_4135I love the excitement and anticipation before attending a conference, especially NAIS. Whether it’s your first time at Annual Conference or if you are a frequent participant, here’s some advice before you head to Baltimore:

#1 Download the app!  Seriously, do it right now. You won’t regret it.

  • Familiarizing yourself with the app ahead of time will help you to get a handle on all that the conference has to offer.
  • Each year the app gets better. I see myself using tools such as “My Schedule,” “Workshops,” “Speakers,” “What’s on Now,” “Exhibitors,” and “Downloads.”  And there’s more, too! Check it out. Now.

#2 Plan ahead. Now that you downloaded the app, USE IT! 

  • Spend some time planning your days BEFORE you arrive. You can browse the workshops “by day,” “by track,” and “by type.” How convenient is that?
  • Plan multiple options for each time slot. This way, if a img_4137session is not meeting your needs, you have a backup plan. Attending EdCamps helped me realize my time is too precious at conferences like this to waste them in a session that is not meeting my needs.
  • Read up on the Keynote speakers ahead of time and if you are extra ambitious, maybe even do a little research about them. Personally, I am looking forward to Sir Ken Robinson on Friday morning!
  • Browse the exhibitors to see who will be there. Identify the vendors that you want to make sure you visit. You can view these “by category” or “by location.” Great, again! Exhibition Hall can be super overwhelming if you don’t have a focus.

#3 Follow #NAISAC on Twitter. And if you are not on Twitter, join today*. 

  • The conversations tagged with #NAISAC enrich the conference experience on so img_4136many levels.
  • Discussions are continued beyond the finite time within a workshop or keynote.
  • It’s easy to make connections with others and continue them long after the conference is over. So many amazing independent school educators will be at your fingertips through the #NAISAC hashtag.
  • Because you can’t be in two places at once, following #NAISAC can help you learn from people in other sessions.
  • If you are social media shy, the NAISAC app will allow you to see what people are talking about on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and YouTube through the “Social Media” link.
  • If you are comfortable, share what you are learning as you go. I use twitter as a way to take notes. It keeps them short, sweet, and to the point. (140 characters or less!) And others can benefit from what I am learning and add to them.

*(Note: Here, here, and here are some resources on Twitter for educators.)

A little time invested now will pay off in the long run, making #NAISAC 2017 the best yet. See you in Baltimore!

P.S. If you have additional tips and advice, please leave a comment. 

It’s almost time…

NAIS 2016 Annual Conference Online Community

There’s always a feeling of excitement surrounding the NAIS Annual Conference each year- lots of preparation to leave school for a few days, and the anticipation of all the new ideas and energy the conference will bring is invigorating.

If this is your first time, here are a few tips that may help:

  1. Download the conference app TODAY!IMG_6899
  2. Spend some time on the app AHEAD of time. Browse each time slot and select 2 or 3 sessions that interest you. The app will give you a warning that you already have selected a session during that time. It’s OK. You have to have options! If one doesn’t work out, you can scoot out and catch another.
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  3. If you are not on Twitter, join today!Here’s a link to a Twitter for Educators Beginner’s Guide. You will want to participate in all the conversations (a.k.a. backchanneling) that are happening during the…

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#naisac 2015 Admin Unplugged: Choice is a good thing!

When noon came on Thursday, it didn’t take long to get over the fact that our Admin Unplugged session was in the immense Grand Ballroom B. Participants trickled in and began to write session topics (or vote for others) on the easels at the entrance.

After about 10 minutes, Liz facilitated an icebreaker so participates could meet and introduce themselves to three different people. While that was happening, Justine and I were tallying the votes and setting up the 5 different discussion tables.

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The of topics of Scheduling, Teacher Evaluation, Head of School relationship with Admin Teams, Open Gradebooks, and Leadership Training were announced. We explained that attendees would choose one of the tables and have a 20-minute discussion surrounding that topic. It wasn’t long before everyone was seated and the conversations were off and running. At the end of 20 minutes, participants could choose another table and have a conversation surrounding a different topic or stay at the table and continue with the discussion.

The hour flew by, and participants seemed comfortable sharing their knowledge and passions with each other. Choice is a good thing! 

 

#naisac 2015: “Why Should More Parents Value Your School?”

NAIS Annual Conference 2015

My 8am session on Thursday morning was “Why Should More Parents Value Your School?”  Some great advice here from Richard Hardy from Concord Academy and Ben Edwards from The Art & Science Group.

Biggest takeaways:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.“

“Don’t take on research until you are ready to be: 1) introspective and 2) act on the results.”

Here are my tweets:

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#naisac 2015: “Playgrounds, Parents, & Programs – Oh My! The Work of the Division Head”

 My first session at NAIS 2015 was a 3-hour workshop entitled: “Playgrounds, Parents and Programs- Oh  My! The Work of the Division Head.” It was engaging, relevant, and very informative.

Following an amazing presentation from three division heads at three different schools, the session included a “critical friends group” exercise used to unpack a challenging dilemma at our school. We were paired up and went through the process of pre-reflection, framing the dilemma, clarifying the dilemma, probing and discussing, making recommendations, and then reflecting on it. It was useful to have a peer listen, process, and then give feedback on something that was challenging for me. It was a great start to the conference!

Here are my public notes (tweets) and reflections on the session:

Another awesome #caisct Academic Technology Retreat!

making a buzzerEach year, the CAIS Academic Technology Retreat never disappoints. It’s filled with amazing, thoughtful, forward-thinking educators who debate, discuss and explore ways in which they can improve and enhance the learning experiences for their students. This year, our Keynote was Don Buckley.  His topic was “Design and Maker Thinking.”  Don is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of  Tools at Schools.  The focus of his presentation was to investigate the teaching and learning of design and maker thinking in schools. We thoroughly enjoyed his animated and engaging presentation and I, personally, loved his break-out session where we were challenged to design a wearable technology that would change the student learning experience as we know it.

Here are my tweets from my time at the retreat. (I needed to leave early due to commitments back at school.)

https://twitter.com/lcarroll94/status/466938856047394816

 

Here is a link to other tweets from the event.

Here is a link to our “App Smackdown.” Feel free to add your favorite tool/app to it!

This tweet by Rush Hambleton is, by far, one of the most powerful things about this retreat, and one of the many reasons it’s not to be missed each year.  Thanks for another awesome, awesome learning experience!

Here are some additional photos from the event.

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