Once again I have been given the opportunity to be part of something that is much greater than myself. I am at the annual meeting for the National Writing Projoct (NWP) and as always, I am filling my brain to the brim with new ideas to take back to my students, colleagues, and school. My brain will overflowith.
Every year there is a plenary where members of NWP get to listen about the state of the writing project and where we have been and where we are going in the future. This year our director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl discussed where we should “double down” as teachers in certain areas and the importance of taking a stand for what we believe in. After all, it is through the narratives we write that gives us power and makes our story known.
As I thought about the gambling term “double down”, I began to think that most educators do double down, don’t we? We do it because we care about our students and want them to succeed. Yes, there are educators who don’t go “all in” when it comes to their job or doing what is best for student. Let’s face it, we know at least one. Needless to say though, most of our hearts and minds have a passion for our career and our students.
This year has been odd for me, other than the new teaching assignment. I have struggled at times this year to the point where the environment that I was working in was having such a negative impact on me that I just wanted to stay home. Other days were fine, but for almost three weeks, I rode the struggle bus. As I began to reflect on my 1/2 hour drive home one afternoon, I knew I couldn’t give up on my students. My relationship with them was becoming very positive from where I was at with them last year as 7th graders. They drove me nuts. I knew that I had to be there for them and continue to walk with them in their journey through school and life.
I had a hard time leaving my students to come to this conference. We laugh, we learn, we get frustrated with each other. We are a family. As one of my writing project colleagues has said, ” The learning is in the struggle”. A statement that couldn’t be more true for me right now, but I am starting to better understand what I need to do and it became more clear today while attending the conference.
So, being “all in” and thinking about the power of narrative reminds me our writing is what gives us a voice. On the other hand, I know I have to keep fighting for my students and not let a negative school culture give way for them having a negative teacher where they don’t want to go to class or have hope.
I will continue to use my voice in writing to help me be more positive for my students so they too can see there is hope with the right attitude and the right tools. I want to model for them that they too have a voice and can make a difference. Even when it is with their pen.
It’s time to stay positive!
It’s time to go to work!
It’s time to write!
As I finished out the Chippewa River Writing Project’s (CRWP) Summer Institute for the first time as a co-director, I had the opportunity to give feedback to my group members that I worked with for almost four weeks. As we sat on my colleagues couches and bar stools, I started to think about authentic assessment and what the definition of authentic assessment actually is in relation to what I was doing with CRWP participants as well as what I do with my students on a yearly basis.
Realizing I hadn’t given much thought to authentic assessment, I started doing some digging. In the past I had focused more attention on formative -vs- summative assessment. As I begin researching the idea of authentic assessment, I knew that I needed help from someone who was familiar with assessments and had vested time with the subject at hand. I emailed a writing project colleague and friend Scott Filkins (@scottfilkins). Scott is the author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (Principles in Practice). He has also worked with students in grades 6-12 and works with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) on the ReadWriteThink resources.
When I emailed Scott I asked him to direct me towards some resources on authentic assessment. Scott replied with a few questions that I had never considered before and therefore plunged me further into thinking about authentic assessment. Scott asked:
“Do you mean assessment that’s true assessment in the sense that it’s embedded in the ongoing work of the local classroom ecology and truly shapes a teacher’s understanding of a kid and what’s next for him or her? Or do you mean the kind of authentic assessment that’s like project based where the kids are doing something “authentic” with reading/writing/literacy?”
Both questions were spectacular in regards to how broad I began my thinking. As I thought about the questions, I knew that I was thinking more along the lines of students doing something “authentic” with literacy. After all, that is what participants of the Summer Institute had completed for us to review.
On the other hand, I was also thinking authentic assessment was the type of feedback we give students when we grade their assignments. I sat down and took approximately 3 1/2 hours to give solid feedback to four individuals. I didn’t fill out a rubric or grade a multiple choice test. I was giving each person what I felt was valuable feedback on the pieces they created during their time of the Summer Institute. Feedback that was going to help them become better writers and teachers.
The more I thought about it and read some of the great resources Scott Filkins had shared with me, I started to realize that authentic assessments and authentic feedback are two different things. They weren’t the same. However, we can’t give students authentic feedback unless we give them authentic assessments. By giving our students more authentic assessments we can then make better decisions about curriculum and more effectively communicate with our students about their learning. Therefore, making them better learners and helping them understand where they are and where they need to go!
As a result of my research and help from awesome colleagues like Scott Filkins, I will reflect more about the assessments my students complete this school year and the feedback I give to them.
Pushing forward this time of year seems to be a slow process and transitioning from narrative to informational reading and writing can be a rather challenging task with 7th and 8th graders.
Previously my students just completed a 12 week journey with narrative reading and writing. From memoirs, to This I Believe, and on to mysteries, my students did a lot of reading and writing in the narrative world.
With the narrative unit in the rear view mirror, it is time to emerge my students into the informational world. Before I write about my introductory lessons for this unit I want to share with you some thoughts shared at a few conferences I have attended since last Spring.
Recently I returned from Las Vegas and the NCTE conference. While there I listened to Kelly Gallagher speak about writing in his classroom. He echoed the thoughts he had at the end of his book Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts about great writing isn’t just narrative alone, informational alone, or argumentative alone. Great writing should involve elements from all three or at least more than one. Jeff Anderson said the same thing at a session I attended last year at MCTE. While trying to motivate us as writers, he pointed to a book on the triangle fire and discussed with us how the book used both narrative and informational elements to reach the reader.
Now, I relay this information because I want educators to understand that though I spend a lot of time on separate units revolving around Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative reading and writing, I am also building on each unit as I enter the next. For example, I began my unit by displaying some of the Common Core Standards.
- (RL.7.1) Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
We discuss the idea that informational reading and reading is used to inform and explain a given topic. I tell my students they are going to hear the words inform and explain A LOT from me.
Then, we generate a list together on a shared Google Doc where they see information reading or writing. Below are a few items they listed:
- Internet searches
- Business cards
When the students were done adding to the list we took some time to talk about what type of information each of these genres were trying to inform or explain or what was the purpose. I was very satisfied with the conversation that took place.
To help demonstrate to students(7th grade) that there are reading selections with both narrative and informational elements I chose the short story “The Green Mamba” by Roald Dahl. When the students were reading it they completed a T-Chart with one side labeled Narrative qualities and the other side labeled Informational qualities. If you visit the ReadWriteThink website you can find a really nice T-chart for the student to use. When students complete the T-Chart I have them listen to the short story on CD (RI.7.7) and they complete a short quiz about the selection.
I feel my students begin to understand how a reading selection can have both narrative and informational qualities by completing the T-chart and listening to the story again. The short story serves as a quality transition piece for my students as we dive into informational reading and writing.
Today we discussed Facebook and the type of information the social media website portrays. After taking a short survey with my 8th graders, about 80% of them have Facebook but do not visit their page that often. Most 8th graders said they visit it once a week. Most students who had access to it via mobile phone didn’t even check Facebook during school. It makes me wonder if Facebook is on the way out. Both my 7th and 8th graders are creating Facebook profiles on paper and then we are going to use those profiles to create a profile on Schoology, the social media website I use in my classroom. More to come later!
I have officially arrived at NCTE. As a first time Vegas guest, I must say it is crazy. My body has not transitioned to the time change and I am up at 5:00 a.m. working on my blog. A nap may be order later, but who knows with so many great sessions.
Speaking of great sessions, yesterday evening Barry Lane gave another one of his spectacular performances for NWP teachers. Though I didn’t attend earlier annual meeting sessions, my NWP peeps convinced me to peek in on what Mr. Lane was doing. If you have ever been to one of Barry Lane’s presentations, you know it is very entertaining and informative.
After laughing continuously and feeling energized as ever, he brought up the term “rigor”, which has been associated with the Common Core Standards since they have been released. Teachers are supposed to have more “rigor” in the classroom with the CCSS. When he asked a woman in a video what her definition of rigor was she stumbled and passed the buck on to her friends that she was standing with. Needless to say, their definition was less than perfect. So Mr. Lane put up the first six definitions of rigor from the dictionary. Here are a few of them!
1. Strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.
2. A sever or harsh act, circumstance, etc.
Does this sound like something we should be infusing into our classrooms? Barry Lane had a few other definitions from the medical dictionary too. One medical definition is, shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill. Again, do we really want to be teaching something like this in our classroom? Tom Romano was even in a video where he said rigor is the sister of mortis. I cracked up on that one.
Instead of “rigor”, Mr. Lane said we should be teaching “vigor” instead. I couldn’t agree more, especially after seeing that definition
1. Healthy physical or mental energy or power; vitality.
2. Force of healthy growth in any living matter or living organism.
Perhaps the two are easy to confuse. I know that vigor sounds much more appealing and attainable in my classroom. I also know “rigor” can occur in my classroom too and if I adhere to the definition, my students are going to get turned off as learners. Can there be a balance of both? What are your thoughts?