My only reservation about the site is that they ask for your birthdate when you register, and that seems a bit odd. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that students put their correct one. I took a quick look at their terms of service and didn’t see anything about an age requirement, but could have missed it. I just don’t see why that information is needed….
Two new studies have now shown that it can be equally effective with Latino students.
My previous blog post and the new studies (along with my lesson plan) do a good job explaining the process but, simply put, the idea is to have students write briefly about values that are important to them.
Here’s how one of the researchers behind the new studies describes why it’s effective:
“When you look at what the students write, you see that they are generally not boosting their egos or self-aggrandizing. What they do is remind themselves about who they are, and what is important to them. They are reaffirming a narrative about themselves that they are okay people who have core values that will be with them through the ups and downs of school. And this helps the students see threatening events from a broader perspective, and these threats become less of a stressor and less disruptive of their academic motivation and efficacy.”
I’ve written about the value of “mimic writing” in some of my books, and today read a post by Daniel Coyle that put the value of mimicry much more succinctly and and accurately than I have ever described it.
But first, let me share a little bit more about what it is and what I’ve shared about it….
Simply put, it’s just showing students models of writing and challenging them to write their own versions sticking pretty close to the models’ styles.
Mimic writing. Students can examine multiple examples of certain writing features through strategies like concept attainment, text data sets, and teacher modeling. Then students can mimic these writing features by creating their own examples. For example, students can examine several Yes and No examples of topic sentences and identify the features of a good topic sentence. Then students can write their own topic sentences and evaluate them according to these features.
We then share a “data set” of effective openers or “hooks” that students can use for mimicking (you can see an example of what we mean by a “data set” at this article).
Here’s what I wrote about mimic writing as part of a chapter on “Gratitude” in my new book, Self-Driven Learning:
there may be times in lesson plans where “mimic writing” a gratitude “letter” to someone could also be used to refine writing skills. For example, students could write such a letter to someone important in their life using the speech Nelson Mandela gave upon his release from prison as a model. The first portion of that speech is all about the idea of gratitude.
Now, back to Daniel Coyle’s post….
He shares a couple of excellent videos. One is a famous Bruno Mars skit from Saturday Night Live where he brilliantly mimics several famous singers:
Here’s Coyle’s key reflection:
Apparently Mars has been doing these impressions for years, starting with Elvis when he was a little kid. Think of what the repetitions of these imitations have done for Mars’s vocal technique, his range, and his ability to create certain vocal effects. Thanks to mimicry, he has a whole menu of sounds and moves to choose from and use.
I can testify that writers do this too. At various times in my notebooks I’ve mimicked Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Frank DeFord, Gary Smith, and Kurt Vonnegut, and I know many others who did the same.
What experiences have you had with mimic writing in your classes?
You can see an example of this kind of prompt (which requires students to read an essay and respond to it) at a previous post where I shared one my colleague and I developed for an article on Carol Dweck and the idea of a growth mindset.
Here’s an AWPE-style prompt based on a Bob Marley quote (we’re studying a unit on Jamaica) that my colleague Katie Hull Sypnieski and I developed (well, really, it was mostly her ). You can download it here as a student hand-out, but I’ll also share it here:
“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you won’t give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy . . . Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”Bob Marley
Writing Prompt: In the above quotation, what is Bob Marley saying about love and relationships? To what extent do you agree with what Marley is saying? To support your opinion, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your reading.
Again, it’s very abbreviated — not the prompt itself, but what they are reading prior to their response. Typically, it’s an actual essay. But even a short quote like this can be good practice.
Do you have similar examples of prompts (& the essays that the prompts refer to) that have worked well with your students? If so, leave examples in the comments and I’ll write a future post sharing them all.
I’ve often written in this blog (and in my books) about one of my favorite lessons — ESL students compare our school’s neighborhood with the most wealthy one in Sacramento, and write a persuasive essay about which one they like the best. Students first identify what qualities are most important to them in a community, and do lots of other activities.
We just finished this year’s lesson and all the students chose our neighborhood as the better one (usually, about 80% choose our neighborhood). You can see their essays here, and a slideshow about our field trip, too.
Actually, we’re not quite done yet. Students will finish up by designing their ideal neighborhood….
According to Carol Dweck, what is a “growth mindset” and why is it important? Do you agree with what Dweck is saying? To support your opinion you may use examples from your own experiences, your observations of others, and any of your reading (including this article and the other articles on the brain, self-control, and grit that are in your notebook).
Even though I had concluded that Check This was the easiest tool for my students to use for creating/writing reports (they could be creative and no registration was required), we couldn’t get it through our filter.
Loose Leaves became my second choice, though it wasn’t nearly as attractive or engaging to students.
For now, though, I’ve decided on Glogster Edu. You have to pay a few bucks if you want more than ten student accounts, but I think it’s worth it. I have some concerns that it provides so many creative opportunities that students can focus more on looks than content, but, considering the limitations of our content filter, for now it’s the best choice.
I only quickly reviewed it, and it seems to have some nice materials and activities. They say it’s for an intermediate ELL level middle school class. It seems fairly high level in terms of the language and intellectual requirements, so I’d suggest it would work well if you had a class composed entirely of high intermediates. If you had a wide range of language levels, though, I’d question how realistic it would be to realistically differentiate the lesson elements language-wise.
That’s one of the reasons our school uses, as do many others, units from The Write Institute — they’re engaging and easier to differentiate in the kind of ELL classes that I think you’ll find in many schools, ones that have a wide-range of language levels.
That said, though, I’ll still certainly including and adapting part of the Understanding Language unit into my lessons.
The English Department at our high school does a pretty impressive job of teaching and evaluating writing. I invited Lara Hoekstra, one of the leaders of this effort, to write a post describing what we do. One of the key elements of our work is the use of an “improvement rubric,” and Lara discusses it here. You can read more about it in one of my previous posts and in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves. By the way, Lara contributes to its upcoming sequel.
“Instead of seeing students as Far Below Basic or Advanced, we see them as learners”
Guest post by Lara Hoekstra
Six or seven years ago the English department at Luther Burbank High School decided to pursue putting together a school wide writing assessment. Somehow we came to settle on using past versions of the University of California’s entrance assessment, the AWPE (Analytical Writing Placement Examination). In this assessment students read a passage (it could be from any discipline) and then write an essay in response to a prompt. In all the cases, students must read and understand the passage, and then write a response which is connected to, or based on, the reading. All students, 9th-12th, take an AWPE exam twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.
Once the assessments have been collected, a group of English teachers gets together and creates a norming packet. We look for examples of high, medium, and low papers. We also look for trends we see in the writing, and pull out samples of papers the show particular skills. Then for two days in the fall, and two days in the spring, our department assembles and norms and scores the assessments using an improvement rubric from the California Writing Project’s ISAW (Improving Students’ Academic Writing) program.
The whole process is shaped by the rubric; it has shifted the conversation in our department. The point isn’t to give the paper a single score; it’s not a summative assessment. The point is to show the student, and the teacher, where on the continuum he or she lays in twelve specific areas, and by the spring assessment (scored on the same rubric using a different color of highlighter) to hopefully show progress in several of the areas on the rubric.
The language of the rubric is carefully chosen and works well. Deficit language is not used. On most rubrics, especially for summative assessments, students who score in the passing range can see what they did well; students who fall below the passing range see what they did not do. If you look at the table below you can see the difference in the language: the score on the left is based on deficit language, what the student cannot, or did not do. With an improvement rubric, like the box on the right, the deficit language is removed and it states what the student did. The point is to show the student where they are; it gives them credit for what they are doing but acknowledges there is work to do.
**Examples from the deficit language are based of the CAHSEE rubric. Examples from the improvement rubric are based off of the CWP’s ISAW rubric
After we norm and score, teachers review their own papers and look for trends. The next time we meet as a department we chart out what we are seeing in the students’ writings across grade levels. We frame our conversation in terms of what we see students doing, what they are attempting to do, and what is missing. You can look at the chart below to see our observations from this year’s fall assessment.
The rubric has changed our conversation as a department. Instead of talking about what students can’t do, we are talking about what they are doing and what we need to do to move them to the next level. Once we have charted out what we are seeing, then we meet in grade level groups to discuss focus areas for each unit. Which bands of the rubric do we want to focus on? In the unit we are teaching, are we giving students enough quality practice time with that particular strand? We set goals and then meet throughout the unit to share ideas and assess what we are doing. We bring in student work and talk about what we can do to continue moving students forward.
In the spring we give a second assessment and we measure progress. Again we map out what we are seeing in the students’ writings. This time we are looking to see if, as a department, we have moved students. We look at which strands show improvement and which ones don’t, and then we set goals for the following year, when we will start the process over again.
This process is a tremendous amount of work but well worth it. Our department is constantly talking about students, their writings, and progress. We aren’t afraid to talk about what isn’t working and to admit when we need help. The information gleaned from the writing assessments gives a better picture of our students as readers and writers than the standardized test scores. Instead of seeing students as Far Below Basic or Advanced, we see them as learners. We get a snapshot of them in twelve specific areas of reading and writing, and we can measure and see the progress.
Even more importantly, we see that the skills are sticking with students across grade levels. The 12th graders start out doing more than the 11th, the 11th more than 10th. This year we were able to see students using academic language and sentence frames that we had started using the previous years, tools that weren’t introduced this year at the time of the first assessment. It’s rewarding to see your teaching reflected in students’ reading and writing and it drives our department to work harder in planning and implementing our curriculum.
One of my more popular “The Best…” lists is The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons. Though that list includes several online tools, I recently realized I hadn’t included many that I use and have previously posted about. So, I thought I’d bring them all together in a new list.
Here are my choices for The Best Online Tools For Using Photos In Lessons:
I’m a big proponent of the Picture Word Inductive Model as a strategy for English Language Learners to develop reading and writing skills (I describe it in detail in this month’s ASCD Educational Leadership in my article, Get Organized Around Assets). It begins with the teacher labeling items in thematic photos with the help of students. The webtool Thinglink could be a great deal to help ELL’s maximize the advantages of this instructional strategy. Thinglink lets you upload or grab an image or video off the web and annotate items with the image or video super-easily. It basically looks like a photo in the Picture Word Inductive Model, just online. Thinglink’s recently announced for educators and students that you can now annotate fifty images free, and the cost for far more is next-to-nothing.
Here’s an image I annotated in the PWIM style (you can embed images, too) Just put your cursor on the photo (if you’re reading this on an RSS Reader, you’ll have to click through to the actual blog post):
Students can pick photos online or upload ones that are reinforcing the theme we’re studying, and label the items. In fact, you can even choose to have your photos/videos be able to be annotated by others, too!
Szoter doesn’t require registration, you can upload or grab images off the web (just insert its url address), and the final product looks just like an image would look like using the Picture Word Inductive Model.
Pic-Lits lets users pick an image from selection and then “drag-and-drop” words onto the image. The user’s creation can then be saved with a link posted, or it can be embedded. It has some elements that might make it particularly useful to English Language Learners. The words you can choose from are labeled by their parts of speech, and once you drop the word on the image you can see all the different verb conjugations and choose one. You can write a poem or describe the picture. You also have the option of writing whatever words you want if you don’t want to be limited by the words available to drag-and-drop.
Five Card Flickr Story lets you pick five photos from a group of pre-selected images from Flickr and then write a story about them. It saves your selection and story, and provides you with a link to it. No registration is required.
I take photos (and have students take photos) using iPhone apps that let you provide an accompanying audio commentary.
The best app for this kind of excellent speaking practice exercise is Fotobabble. The web version is already on The Best Sites To Practice Speaking English list, and I’m adding the phone app there, too (here are several examples where I’ve used both the web and iPhone version in class). You take a photo, provide an up-to-one minute commentary, and then can it several ways. You can email it to yourself, too, where you are provided a link to it on the Fotobabble site. You’re given the opportunity to re-record if you don’t like how it sounds on the first try, and you can make other changes to it, too. It also provides the option to embed, as I have done with this quick experiment (a photo of one of our dogs, Lola):
Another option is an app called Picle. It only gives you ten seconds of commentary, but you can choose to have it record at the same time you’re taking the photo or afterwards. It doesn’t offer an embed option, but you can link to it on the Picle website. It also doesn’t appear to give you an opportunity to re-record if you’re not satisfied with your first try. Here’s a sample – again of Lola.
enpixa is a similar iPhone app. It’s free, and you can add a thirty second recording.
Skqueak is a new free iPhone app I like a lot that lets you easily provide audio for photos. There are several other apps in this post that do something similar. However, I suspect that Skqueak is going to give them a run for their money. It’s very simple to use, it appears to have a very extended recording time (though I’m not sure what the time limit is exactly) and, most importantly, it makes it extremely easy to create sort of a seamless audio slideshow. None of the other similar apps have such an ability, or at least one that is as easy to use.
Here’s a short example:
Phreetings lets you search for an image (it appears to use Flickr, but I can’t be sure), drag and drop it on a virtual card, and then write something below it (it looks like you can write a lot there). You’re then given the url to copy and paste. During our study of natural disasters, for example, I can see my students finding an image labeled “Katrina” and writing a short report on what they’ve learned so far about the hurricane.
Bubblr is a super-easy tool to use for adding “speech bubbles” to online photos. ImgOps lets you do the same thing.
The Art of Storytelling is a site from the Delaware Art Museum that allows you pick a painting (they don’t use photos, but the site is so good I decided to inlude it in this list anyway), write a short story about it, record it with your computer microphone, and email the url address for posting on a student website or blog. It’s extraordinarily simple, and extraordinarily accessible to any level of English Language Learner. No registration is required.
Dubbler joins the list of several free Smartphone apps that let you record a sixty second audio caption for a photo.
Wave joins the list of several free Smartphone apps that let you record an audio caption for a photo.
Feelit joins the ever-growing list of Smartphone apps that let you record audio along with your photos.
I’ve previously posted about research discussing the value of students sharing what is happening in their lives (see The Value Of Sharing Positive Events) and have written on this blog and in my books how I apply this finding in my teaching, primarily in my English Language Learner classes. I have students write about two positive events in the week and why they felt they were positive, and one not-so-positive event and what they could have done to make it better. They share it with a partner verbally, and each has to ask a question of the other. Then I invite a few people to share with the entire class, and afterwards collect them. Not only does it help build a positive classroom atmosphere, it provides an opportunity to write for an authentic audience and it helps me learn what’s going on in students’ lives.
I can’t really say why I haven’t done it with mainstream students in the past, but I’m starting to do so this year. We always do a short reflection on Fridays and, though I might not ask them to do it every week, I’ll include it regularly.
I thought readers might find it useful to see the model I use. I’ll print it in the body of this post, and you can also download it as a student handout here that you can modify. Here’s the content:
Mr. Ferlazzo’s Journal, Sept. 7, 2012
Here are two good things that happened to me this week:
I really enjoyed school starting this week. I love my classes and all my students because they are all hard-working and smart.
I had a great time playing basketball on Tuesday night. I scored the game-winning shot, and everybody on the team wanted to pass the ball to me.
Here is one not-so-good thing that happened to me this week:
A student dropped gum on the rug in my room, and I was not happy that I had to scrape it off. I could have reminded students to throw gum in the garbage.
The Yellow Test is the headline for a New York Times column today that offers great writing advice.
I would strongly encourage reading the entire piece, but here’s an excerpt:
Carrie is a professor at a university. She had asked me how to turn an area of her expertise, secondary school education, into writing that the general public would find rewarding and enjoyable. That’s when I began talking about scenes, using her accident as an example of how to approach her work. Almost all creative nonfiction, essays or books, are, fundamentally, collections of small stories — or scenes — that together make one big story.
I told Carrie about the exercise I assign my students: “The Yellow Test.” You pick up a book by your favorite nonfiction writer or leaf through a best seller that made a big impact. Take a yellow highlighter and color in the scenes — that is, the places with characters and action, where things happen. I promise: You will find you have highlighted a major portion of the text.
Authentic audiences are always motivating for students, and I thought having an expanded list of places where students could post book reviews people other than classmates or a teacher would see them would be useful. I’ve had a few in The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience” list, but I was sure there were more.
So I put out a call on Twitter, and got a lot of great responses. I hope readers will contribute even more.