Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

January 1, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Useful Writing Scaffold For A Classroom Wall

I’ve previously written about the excellent They Say, I Say writing instruction book (see “They Say, I Say” Is A Great Writing Resource).

My colleague, co-author and good friend Katie Hull made some modifications on a writing scaffold she puts up on her wall. I think it’s a good one, and she gave me permission to share it:

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I’m adding it to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

December 21, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Check Out Roxanna Elden’s New Children’s Book: “Rudy’s New Human”

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Roxanna Elden, one of the best education writers on the planet (and whom I’ve written about a lot), has just published a children’s book titled Rudy’s New Human.

Here’s a guest post from her where she introduces the book, shares an exciting and unique opportunity to let readers see a previous draft, and provides suggestions to all of us who want to write our own children’s book in the future:

Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. Her first children’s book, Rudy’s New Human, comes out this week.

In teaching, there is no such thing as a final draft. Teaching requires a non-stop series of judgment calls in real time; even with good material, there will always be places the plot slows down, clumsy descriptions, lines of dialogue we wish we’d been able to edit out. 

Authors, on the other hand, always write multiple drafts of their work. In fact, if you go to bookstore events, chances are you’ll hear authors express embarrassment about their first drafts. That’s because they’ve had the opportunity to ask themselves, as many times as necessary, “Is this what I want to say? Is this how I want to say it?” 

I got a big reminder of this contrast over the past year, while working on my first children’s book: RUDY’S NEW HUMAN. The book is narrated by a canine-narrator named Rudy and inspired by the real-life experience of my real dog Rudy as he adjusted to having a baby in the house. The pictures are by supremely talented illustrator Ginger Seehafer, who is also a mom to two humans and two cats.

Here’s where the contrast kicks in: It took more than a year for this 30-page book to go through all the stages of editing, proofreading, and other quality control that led to publication. By publishing industry standards, this was a pretty quick turnaround.

For teachers used to living in permanent rough draft mode, this may be one of the most surprising aspects of the publishing process.

But there’s another thing about the publishing world that’s an adjustment from teaching: The silence.

The flip side of permanent rough draft mode is that teachers are used to getting immediate feedback. A class full of students will let you know right away when the plot slows down or a line of dialogue lands wrong. As a hopeful author, there’s no one to let you know how you’re doing. You write the best draft you can, revise endlessly, research possible agents, email your material out with a personal note, and then…. Wait.

No one puts their head down or checks their phone or starts a side conversation in an outdoor voice to let you know your material isn’t clicking for them, but the sense of rejection can be just as deafening. For more about the publishing process, here is my post entitled, Three Answers to the Question, “So, How Do I Get Published?”

As a nod to the rough-draft nature of teaching, Ginger and I are also offering a secret look at some rough draft pages of RUDY’S NEW HUMAN to anyone who pre-orders the book before the official release date, January 5. 

To get the bonus material, pre-order the book from any retailer before January 5, then email a copy of your receipt to rudythebookdog@gmail.com. You’ll get an email back with our first-draft of the text, notes, and early sketches, all of which you’re welcome to share with your colleagues and students. Plus, you’ll get a whole new understanding of why most authors hide their first drafts from the world. 

I’m adding this post to So, You Want To Write A Book? Here’s The Best Advice…

 

December 5, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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New Study Says Emphasize Quality Over Quantity In Teaching Writing, But I Don’t Think That’s Most Important Finding

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A big new study on writing instruction just came out, and it was shared on Twitter by Renee Moore and The National Writing Project.

When More Is Less is the headline of the article summarizing the study, which is freely available online (The Contributions of Writing to Learning and Development:Results from a Large-Scale Multi-institutional Study).

The article highlights that quality of instruction is more important than quantity. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it’s hard for me to believe that this is a big surprise to anybody.

More important for practical teacher instruction, however, I think the study highlights three practices that we should keep in mind when we teach. The researchers find that they all result in improved student writing and learning (their words are in italics; my commentary is not):

  • Interactive Writing Processes, which involve the student writers communicating orally or in writing with one or more persons at some point between receiving an assignment and submitting the final draft (teacher conferences, peer review).
  • Meaning-Making Writing Tasks, which require students to engage in some form of integrative, critical, or original thinking.  Based on the researcher’s description of what these kinds of tasks looked like, it appears that they are specifically talking about learning transfer (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Concept Of “Transfer” — Help Me Find More): Examples include asking students to apply a concept learned in class to their past experience, relate knowledge learned in another class to knowledge presented in the current class, support a contestable claim with evidence, or evaluate a policy, practice, or position.
  • Clear Writing Expectations, which involve instructors providing students with an accurate understanding of what they are asking their students to show that they can do in an assignment and the criteria by which the instructors will evaluate the students’ submissions. Here, they refer to giving written instructions and to using rubrics. I am surprised that they don’t even mention sharing models and examples, particularly since recent research shows that this strategy can be more effective than rubrics (see Dylan Wiliam advises: Forget the Rubric; Use Work Samples Instead is a pretty important post by Doug Lemov. Be sure to also check out Dylan William’s comment on it). Also see The Best Rubric Sites (And A Beginning Discussion About Their Use).

Those seem to me to be pretty useful teaching guidelines.

You might also find these two resources related and useful:

New Study Says That Half Of “Evidence-Based Practices” In Writing Instruction Not “Signaled” By Common Core

The Best Posts On Writing Instruction

November 26, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Learning From The Past To Inform Our Present Response To Refugees

Here are some articles from this week which speak to the present hysteria about refugees.

I’m adding this post to The Best Sites For Learning About World Refugee Day, and I’ll also be adding some of the individual articles to other “Best” lists:

For Japanese-Americans, Resistance to Syrian Refugees Recalls Long-Ago Fears is from The New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

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I’m adding this article to The Best Resources On Japanese Internment In World War II.

Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the U.S. is from The Washington Post. Here’s an excerpt:

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I’m adding it to The Best Sites To Learn About Anne Frank.

Syrian and Iraqi refugees seek freedoms cherished by all Americans is from The Washington Post.

Here is an excerpt:

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I plan on have students read this piece and respond to this writing prompt:

How does Khalil Tawil suggest the United States should respond to refugees? To what extent do you agree or disagree with what he believes? To support your position, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings.

I’m adding this resource to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction, where you can find links to multiple writing prompts.

November 22, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Good Quote From Ta-Nehisi Coates On Writing & How I’m Using It In Class

Thanks to Mel Katz on Twitter, I learned about an interview The NY Time just published with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Here’s an excerpt:

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I’m going to share that quote with my students, and ask them to respond to this writing prompt:

What does Ta-Nehisi Coates say is the best part of writing? To what extent do you agree or disagree with what he believes? To support your position, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings.

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction, where you can find many other prompts.

November 13, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Reading & Writing About El Salvador With Salvadoran Refugees

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We’re learning how to write Problem/Solution essays in my Intermediate English class this month. We’ve begun by reading some simple stories and then respond to simple writing prompts using the “They Say/I Say/Why I Say It” model (read my previous post, “They Say, I Say” Is A Great Writing Resource).

This week I decided make a somewhat risky move and have students read a more complex text that I knew would bring up some strong emotions (I spoke to students privately ahead of time to make sure it was not going to result in too strong emotions). Vox recently published a commentary titled El Salvador is now one of the most violent countries in the world. Here’s what it’s like. The article is too advanced for my students, but I was able to modify it in about ten minutes to make it accessible. Unfortunately, Vox wouldn’t give me permission to share my version here, but I’m sure it would take any ELL teacher just a few minutes to create your own version to use with students.

Here is the writing prompt that I used along with the article:

What is the problem that Elaine Denny writes about, and what solution does she suggest? Do you agree with her solution, or can you think of a better one? To support your opinion, you may use examples from your own experiences, your observations of others, and anything you have read (including from this article).

I gave students copies of the article, put mine on the overhead, and began to read it aloud while asking students (several whom were Salvadoran refugees, and others were refugees from Guatemala and Honduras) to read silently with me. While I was reading, students began to behave in classroom inappropriate ways, including laughing and talking. In retrospect, I should have expected that kind of behavior as a coping mechanism that students would use. However, I’m embarrassed to say that I let my feelings of annoyance prevail, instead.

I became exasperated, and announced that I wasn’t feeling respected, we wouldn’t continue reading the article and, instead, I wanted students to take out their workbook and work silently on it. Right after my announcement, the only two students who had been reading intently protested that they really wanted to continue to read it.

So, I moved to their corner of the room and announced that anyone who wanted to be serious was welcome to join use. Others could work on their workbook. Everyone quickly moved to our corner, except for one student who I knew had an exceptionally traumatic refugee experience. He went to the opposite corner of the room, turned his desk so it faced into the corner and away from us, and began to work in his book, though it was also obvious that he was listening as we read the article.

Students became very engaged in the article and the subsequent writing prompt. A student teacher joined me, and I asked her to work with those students. I went over to the student in the corner and asked if he’d like to read the article with me. He quickly agreed, and we sat down together. As we read it, he took his phone and showed me photos of all his young friends who had been murdered by gangs in El Salvador.

He began to write his essay in response to the article, and I was able to check-in with the other students. It was clearly the best writing they had done since class began in September. In our previous writing prompts, everyone had agreed with the perspective of the writer. Here, however, no one agreed with the writer’s “solution” of fleeing the country. Everyone said that, instead, the government needed to make it a safe country for their people.

So what are my lessons from this experience?

* Checking-in with students prior to risky activities is good, but just because they say it’s okay doesn’t mean I shouldn’t anticipate difficulties. This is one a teacher with my experience should have known….

* Starting at a place within the experience of students can lead to academic movement far beyond what was achieved previously — relevance, motivation and engagement really trumps most everything else when it comes to learning. This is not a new lesson, but obvious reminders are always helpful.

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

November 4, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Students Can Write A Review For The NY Times Learning Network

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In what I think is a great opportunity, The New York Times Learning Network is sponsoring a student contest for writing reviews:

Here’s how they describe it:

Do you have strong opinions about music, art, fashion, theater or books? Are you a cinephile or foodie?

If so, you’re in luck. Between now and Nov. 24, 2015, we invite you to play critic and write an original review for our newest student contest.

What can you choose? Anything that fits into a category of creative expression that The New York Times covers — from architecture to video games.

Check it out!

October 17, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Three Useful Videos On Plagiarism & Citations

I’m adding the first two videos to The Best Online Resources To Teach About Plagiarism and the last video to The Best Resources For Learning Research & Citation Skills:

Paraphrasing from Imagine Easy Solutions on Vimeo.

Citations for Beginners from Imagine Easy Solutions on Vimeo.