Every year, my students help me to become a better teacher. We will run into some type of a mental road block, and together we will need to think our way through it – this always results in a new way of teaching a piece of content and honestly, it is one of my favorite things about teaching. I love the puzzles!
This year we hit a stumbling block with plot structure. Not the definitions, those were easy enough to learn. Not with discussing the novel we read, Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule, that seemed to go okay. (Notice the word choice “seemed”) The problem came when I asked my students to apply their learning to their own novels, and it became clear that they needed more support.
As my former principal used to say, ”The smartest person in the room, is the room.” It was time to revisit our class novel and the concept of the plot structure chart. We had finished the book two weeks ago, and I assured the class that was actually a good thing as what we would remember now were the major plot points. Using my Promethean board, we brainstormed the people, places, and events in the story. Then we sorted each of our responses into the appropriate category: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Where the information was incomplete, I thought aloud and asked myself questions, adding to the categories.
Then we went through the categories to see how the basic problem intertwines through the plot, how it reaches its high point in the climax, and then has to be resolved. I have decided that I am going to leave out the word “exciting” when teaching about climax next year, at least initially, because that word has been a stumbling block for my students this year. We also made a record of the questions that I asked myself and them to clarify our thinking. Those questions I turned into the chart that I am sharing with you today – a Questions for Plot Structure chart as an option for those students who the plot structure pyramid charts confuse. I am also sharing the completed Questions for Plot Structure – Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule Example that my students and I created together.
I hope this is helpful to some of you! How do you teach plot structure?
I will be going full force with the Common Core and standards based grading this school year and have been reading anything I can get my hands on. I like to start with theI just wanted to share with you some websites that I have found useful in planning for Common Core instruction this year.
This is a collection of resources from the Illinois State Board of Education. I really like their ELA Teaching and Learning Strategies, for both Literature and Informational Text. Each standard includes Strategy/Lesson suggestions and ideas for assessment. I’ve included a screenshot of one standard below:
This site is from Common Core Connect, a website of the Tulare County Office of Education in California. This document, for each standard, lists the standard and its anchor, essential skills, academic vocabulary, question stems, and the standard for the grade below and the grade above. I’ve included a screenshot of one standard below:
These are also available as bookmarks that you could hole punch and put on a binder ring.
A last site that I am using in my planning process is the Marzano Research Laboratory, Proficiency Scale Bank. I am transitioning to standards based learning and I plan on creating proficiency scales for each standard I am teaching this year. I always like to look at examples, and there are many on this free website. You will need to create an account though. Here is a screenshot of a sample proficiency scale:
I hope these are helpful to you, and if you have any planning resources for the Common Core, please link them in your comments! Happy planning!
I’ve been reading a great deal about close reading as I prepare to teach the Common Core. In close reading as proposed by the Common Core, the teacher decides what passages to analyze and creates a series of text dependent questions to lead students to a deeper understanding. There is nothing wrong with that, but the Core standards also value independence and how is a student going to learn to close read on their own if it is always teacher driven?
Enter Kylene Beers and Robert Probst book Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, which I just finished reading. This book shows you how to teach students six “signposts” commonly found in fiction that alert the reader to slow down and think about what the author is doing. These signposts teach students how to recognize passages worth analyzing on their own so that they can close read independently. The missing link!
The book is divided into three parts – the first explaining the authors’ thought process in the process of developing these lessons, the middle explaining the and defining the signposts, and lastly, the lessons themselves. The authors developed the signposts by reading the most frequently taught novels from the middle grades and high school to search for features that could be useful across multiple texts. They originally had over a dozen and worked it down to the six most useful on the advice of teachers who were field testing the signposts.
The six signposts are:
Contrasts and Contradictions
Words of the Wiser
Again and Again
The book gives complete lessons for each of these, and suggestions for multiple texts. The authors were not attempting to write a book to help implement the Common Core, and in fact, you can tell they are not crazy about them. Even so, these strategies to bring the reader and text closer together can’t be anything but a good thing!
You can watch a video introducing the book here.
You can view online resources here.
Please forgive this non-content post, but I’m playing around with Bloglovin as my new blog reader and wanted to “claim my blog”.
I am passionate about providing the optimum learning environment for my students. I read professional literature and stalk teacher forums and blogs, constantly on the lookout for new ideas. So, creating a daily schedule should be easy, right? Not so much.
I have tried it all – scheduling separate language arts and social studies time, creating integrated projects. doing some integration while maintaining a separate independent reading block. I haven’t been able to completely reconcile what I know constitutes best practice in reading instruction (student choice! time to read!) and the equally important need for students to experience connected learning (integration) until now. Two things have made this possible – the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and accepting that a schedule should be flexible.
The CCSS are elegant. There are ten anchor standards that are reflected in both literature and informational text, and that is providing the base for my schedule. Each day we will have two independent reading sessions, one focusing on literature (student choice!) and the other focusing on informational text. I am planning on bundling the standards and looking at the same standard through the lens of both literature and informational text. For example, I will start with the elements of literature and the features of informational text, then move to the structure of narrative text versus the organizational patterns of informational text, and so on. The standard provides an automatic integration based on skill/content. The informational text choices will be based around the social studies content, providing a bridge from skill integration to content integration.
My typical schedule then, would look like this:
- Mini-Lesson for the CCSS – Literature
- Independent Reading/Conferences
- Mini-Lesson for the CCSS – Informational Text (this could be very short as it builds on the previous mini-lesson)
- Independent reading/Conferences
- Work on Writing (this would be attached to either the Literature reading session or the Informational text session depending on the type of writing we were working on)
- Social Studies Mini-Lesson
- Independent Work/Conferences (Choice Board)
The entire day then has a fairly seemless feel where all learning is either integrated by skill or content, which is my ultimate goal.
The other thing is that I have made peace with the fact that this will be a “typical” schedule, but that doesn’t mean every day. I have accepted that no one schedule will meet the varied needs of either my curriculum or my students! I have approached this year building in time for performance tasks, because sometimes a learning opportunity cannot be confined to a 30 minute block or an hour. If a performance task meets multiple standards, and we need the day to work on it after our independent reading, then we can take the day or two days or whatever is required. I am sketching out my curriculum so that I have available “blocks” of time for my students to have those experiences.
What sort of schedules have worked for you in integrating your subjects?
I was walking around our media center, excited to read over my students’ shoulders as they worked on an integrated project. Within five minutes, both my teaching partner and I had lines around us with students waiting for conferences. A hum fell over the space, but not the hum of productivity – the hum of frustration! Our students had no real idea of how to research or take notes, at least not independently. I used their frustration to hook their interest in learning how to take notes, and spent most of the next nine weeks teaching them how to take notes. I used the Q-Notes strategy that I describe in this post. The rest of the year we focus on reading and taking our own notes versus using the handouts I had used as a single subject teacher, and it was good.
The next year, I started out with note-taking strategies and found that my students struggled with the Q-Notes. My teaching partner found a different strategy, Boxes and Bullets on Learnzillion, and we tried that with the students and still they struggled. The root problem was not the note-taking strategy, but that these students had a real difficulty in determining what was important and what was not in the text. Their difficulty was in creating a filter for the onslaught of information, something that they will need to do for the rest of their lives. I thought a great deal about how we read informational text as adults, and realized that I was going about note-taking in an inauthentic way. I have never taken notes on an entire article, chapter, or nonfiction book in my adult life unless it was an academic assignment; however, I read nonfiction text all the time as most adults do. I read to be informed about issues that matter to me, or to solve a problem that I might be having – in other words, I read to answer questions. The fault was not in my student’s note-taking skills, so much as it was in their questioning skills.
Aha! Students were trying to take notes for me, and not themselves. This is possibly the root of all school problems.
At the beginning of the next unit, I put the standards students were supposed to master up on the Promethean Board. We discussed what they meant, and any unfamiliar words. I then asked students what questions they would need to be able to answer to prove that they had mastered the standard. I modeled the first one, and then had students work together create questions for the rest of them while I circulated. We had a great conversation about thick versus thin questions and answerable versus debatable questions. During sharing time, we agreed upon a set of questions we would use for our note-taking/research for the unit. We then discussed what resources were available in class, and that students were to focus their research on these questions – this is what we agreed was important to know. Students not only used the class resources, but they shared helpful internet resources on Edmodo. It was an amazing, student centered experience.
Once I switched my focus to teaching my students how to create good questions, their notes became more focused and their research improved dramatically. It did require some scaffolding, and practice over the next several units but students really responded and it had the added benefit of creating student ownership of the content. I continued to expose them to different styles of note-taking, and then encouraged them to use the methods that worked best for them. We would meet about their notes throughout the unit, having them compare with other classmates and discuss what was working for them and what was not. It was better.
This year I’m going to start with the idea of generating questions to frame the research/learning that we will do over the course of a unit. I plan to use the QAR framework to create a common questioning vocabulary and to use Webb’s Depth of Knowledge chart and these stems to help students develop more meaningful questions. I want to help students to recognize that the structure of informational text can also be used to determine if a piece will be useful in their research and how that might change or guide their note-taking. I will continue to expose students to a variety of note-taking structures until they find what works for them. The last piece to implement this year is a note-taking conference that will happen during each unit or project, where students will select their best example of notes so that we can evaluate their progress together and set goals.
How do you help students take good notes, independently?
It has been awhile since my last post, and that has been because my head has been spinning with new ideas and new opportunities. For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to work on a two person team teaching Language Arts and Social Studies in a gifted magnet program. I have moved from teaching a 100 students, one subject, four times a day for an hour to teaching 50 students, three subjects (reading, writing, social studies) twice a day for two and a half hours. The push towards the Common Core, and the need to help students make the most of their learning time has led me to focus on integration and differentiation. This in turn led me to standards based grading as a way of facilitating these things and keeping my students focused on the learning they were doing. There has been more than a few changes in my thinking over this time, and I have grown tremendously, but I have been so busy reading, thinking, discussing with my awesome team mate, and just doing that I haven’t taken the time to post. I also wanted to wait until my thinking was clearer, but as I tell my students “writing is THINKING”, so I’m going to think out loud here and hope that you will give me feedback and help me become clear. Tomorrow I will start with the one skill that launched the most changes in my thinking – note-taking.
Edmodo is an amazing service, and it is free. I’m going to write in this post how I am using Edmodo in my classroom as you can easily Google it to find out anything else.
Assignments: Every assignment I give is on Edmodo. You can actually assign tasks to individual students or whole groups. You can attach handouts, links, or videos to the assignments – no more lost instructions. Students can comment on the assignment asking for clarification. These assignments then show up in student notifications, and can be turned in online. When I grade them I can use Edmodo’s annotate feature, or I can type feedback directly in to the student’s turned in assignment. They can continue to revise until the assignment is graded.
Calendar: All assignments show up in the student’s calendar, and they are clickable. This has been amazing for parents. Also, you can add dates for quizzes/tests/events. My teaching partner is on Edmodo too, so we can see each other’s assignments and coordinate due dates.
Updates/Announcements/Pictures: I can share what we are doing in class, and I can choose what to make public – Edmodo is a closed, safe environment but you can choose to make certain things public – no more double work on the school webpage. Also, students can interact with this content – asking questions or commenting.
Quizzes – you can create all types of assessments in Edmodo – short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice. These can be graded within Edmodo and show you at a glance where the class is and where understanding is breaking down.
Parent Involvement: the absolutely best thing about Edmodo is parent communication. Parents receive everything you send the the student – every assignment, every direct message, the calendar, the quizzes – everything.
Slow shift to paperless – my district wants us to become 90 percent paperless in three years. Edmodo has allowed me to start that – I don’t print copies of study guides for the entire class anymore, only those without access to a printer. Edmodo also plays nicely with any Web 2.0 service you use via links or embedding – projects are completed, submitted, and graded online.
Students use Edmodo at school and home, and it is leading my class to a more blended environment.
This year I am teaching a combined LA/SS block, so I decided to teach note-taking when it came time for the informational text unit. It was incredibly successful and I’ve been using it as a building block to other things since.
The strategy is very simple, and easy to use on any text with sub-headings.
- Write the name of the lesson, the article, or chapter at the top of the page.
- Draw a vertical line about a third of the way from the left of a piece of paper or notebook page.
- Each sub-heading is turned into a question matching the main idea. Write the question on the left side of that line.
- The section is read with the question in mind and the student takes 2 – 5 notes to answer the question on the right side of that line.
That’s all there is to it. I taught a mini-lesson on how to turn the headings into questions, and then we did a practice session using a section of the SS textbook. I read over the students notes and made a list of the mini-lessons they were going to need (summarizing, main idea). After the lessons, we did another set. Repeat.
It took three sets over three weeks, but my kiddos are note-taking fools. Next year, this is the very first thing I will teach them how to do.
This method seemed kind of common sense to me, but I was asked to look for some research and I found this handout. Do you have any note-taking strategies you would like to share?
Update: The explanation handout is no longer online. There is an explanation that could be used for this strategy or Cornell Notes (as they are very similar) here:
There is a template available here