A Great Start to Improving Adolescent Reading Outcomes in the 2018/2019 School Year

This year, our school-wide instructional focus at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School is about increasing students’ reading levels. Our Instructional Leadership Team collaborated on the writing of this statement, an important promise to our students – reading at and above grade level.

Educators in all content areas will use benchmark and formative data to plan and implement instruction that deeply engages students in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and creating, moving toward all students reading at and above grade level.

Yesterday, our Summer Literacy Team met after a summer spent reading – we landed on Moat’s Speech to Print and Roe, Burns, and Wade’s Teaching Reading in Today’s Elementary Schools (9th edition).

These photos capture the sharp thinking of our team of Boston Public Schools’ Educators. I am excited to use writingisthinking.org as a platform to document our work throughout the year.

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Nerds Rule! Creating 8 Page ‘Zines with 5th Grade Students

As anyones who grew up in the 90’s knows, ‘zines (handmade mini-magazines) are the epitome of cool. And thanks to Boston Public Schools teacher Christine Beggan, an incredibly cool group of Gardner Pilot Academy nerds is digging the ‘zine genre.

I first caught wind of the 5th grade ‘zine project when checking my teacher mailbox. Along with the usual school mailings I routinely receive, there was something very unusual and surprising – photocopied fluorescent booklets with hand-written and hand-drawn pages. Even more thrilling, the books were about a sub-culture very near and dear to my heart – NERDS!

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While the three ‘zines I received all focusthe subject of nerds, the three youngsters that created them took different approaches.

In Cool Nerds in HistoryCaricaturist Eva M. profiles six different nerds
with a portrait of each as well of an explanation of why each subject qualifies as a nerd.

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Expert portrait artist Alex A. zeroes in on two Steves – Urkel and Jobs – in his brief work Cool Nerds. Alex informs the reader that Urkel is categorized as a “funny” nerd.

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And finally, researcher and historian Dorlie wrote Nerd Wars in History in chapters. She provides a detailed etymology of the word “nerd” as well as the transition of the “nerd” from an outcast figure to one who commands respect. Consider the following tidbits:

  • Excerpt from Chapter 1: The word “nerd” first appeared in 1950 in a Dr. Seuss book called “If I Ran the Zoo”. It was about a creature named Nertile “Nerd”.
  • From Chapter 2: People usually think about how some kids “become” nerds. Was it the way they were born or was it their development in society?
  • From Chapter 4: The percentages of approval on nerds were low until the early and mid 2000s. Now approval has reached 100% for the first time in nerd history.

The woman behind the nerd ‘zines, Ms. Beggan, could very well be considered a “nerd” herself due to her accomplishments in vinyl record collecting, filmmaking, and German language scholarship. When her 5th grade class chose”nerds” as their homeroom theme for School Spirit Week, Ms. Beggan dreamed up the nerd ‘zine project as a way for students to research and write about the nerd world, a topic not accessed often enough by children in urban schools.

“I wanted every student to realize that it’s cool to be obsessed with learning. That’s why it’s so important for the students to learn about the achievements of nerds – it’s another way to connect them with school,” explains Ms. Beggan, “My students love science, and they were able to learn more about computer geeks, inventors, and the power of problem solving. A ‘zine was non-intimidating, quick, and immediately accessible to all of my students.”

If you want to take on ‘zine-making for yourself or your classroom, here is a helpful article from one of my favorite online creativity magazines (written by and for teenagers of any age): Rookie!

Top left: Cool Teacher Nerd Ms. Beggan with nerd colleague Ms. Mustonen; Bottom left: A handful of cool nerds; Right: Alex A. and Eva M.

Internalizing the Writing Process: Editing, Revising, and Rewriting (and Publishing Parties!)

You may have heard the writer’s motto before: “Never fall in love with your first draft.” Emerging writers, and even experienced writers, put so much energy into an initial draft that it can feel very final. While it is important to acknowledge that merely picking up a pen and applying it to paper is an act of courage, it is essential that writers engage in editing, revising, and rewriting in order to refine their pieces and take them to the next level. Additionally, when teachers facilitate well-planned tasks, the final stages of the writing process are an incredible opportunity for deepening relationships within a community of writers, as the efficacy of deep reading discussion around one another’s work builds trust, connection, and understanding.

Editing and Revision

I have found it very helpful for students to have a finite set of symbols or codes for editing and revision, as well as the freedom to comment aloud and in writing on one another’s papers. If a teacher creates too many rules and restrictions and symbols, students will not revise or edit because they will feel constrained and will second guess the changes that they have occurred to them.

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I teach students the mnemonics ARMS and CHOPS for editing and revision at the very beginning of the year, and, as the year progresses, students build their concepts of the editing and revision skills involved through skill and technique lessons and isolated practice, application of those lessons to process writing pieces, and through students engaging in conferences with themselves (self-editing and revision), their peers, and with teachers and school partner volunteers.

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An essential practice I have found for teaching editing and revision is modeling and thinking aloud in front of students. The best modeling with thinking alouds refers to prior writing techniques and skills that have been explicitly taught to and practiced by the students prior to or during the writing process.The video below demonstrates modeling and thinking aloud with a piece of student writing.

Video: Modeling and Think Aloud of Editing and Revision

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEAvAFL38oc

I follow three guidelines for this practice:

  1. Be natural: It is important not to script your editing and revision demonstration. You want for students to see an authentic example of the time and effort it takes to engage in editing and revision.
  2. Refer back to concepts you have taught to students: Don’t make every correction. For example, in the video, there are certain corrections that I deliberately avoid making. I focus only on concepts that my particular students know, such as using commas for items in a list of series. Teachers of writing must know their students and their prior knowledge well and think of ways to assess this early in the year and continue to monitor and track progress.
  3. Read the writing piece aloud: Students must close read one another’s work and understand how to really analyze; reading aloud aids this as you can really hear the writing and must pay attention to every word, space, and piece of punctuation.

Rewriting

As students rewrite their drafts in preparation for publication, I either have them type drafts in Google Drive or I provide lined paper with a decorative border or graphic relevant to the theme of the writing piece.

For rewrites, I require two or three of these per assignments with noticeable changes on each one. As a more novice teacher, I saw second drafts with minimal changes – maybe the addition of a word or two or a few sprinkles of punctuation. Since then, I have emphasized to students that rewriting is not simply copying or retyping your first draft. There must be significant changes based on feedback that you have received, and rewriting is a time to experiment with your piece. If students have used Google docs when rewriting, it is very easy to view their revisions through the “See Revision History” feature.

When students have completed their final draft, I require them to read it aloud using vocaroo.com and submit their recording to myself and a peer. The students catch a lot of “silly” mistakes this way, and it really helps to ensure that their published pieces are polished.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 9.08.11 AMOnce students have submitted their final draft, I do not correct it before putting it on display or placing it in a class book. It is essential that students trust themselves and the writing process, and if I were to go and “fix” their work, it would diminish the students’ writing as an authentic demonstration of their progress and growth.

Publishing Party

When a process writing piece is completed, I always acknowledge that hard work that our community of writers has undertaken.

Prior to the publishing party, we use class time to create invitations for guests that the students would like to invite to the party. Past guests have included school principals, members of the school board, teachers and students from other classes, coaches and after-school teachers, and, of course, parents and families. My classes have held potlucks, and I usually buy or make a cake as the centerpiece of the celebration.

I also print class books for the students as keepsakes, and, during the publishing party, students read their pieces aloud and autograph one another’s books. Additionally, I will put students’ published pieces online and e-mail them the link to share on social media. During the party, I display the e-publication on a projector.

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I so enjoy celebrating the students’ work with them, and I have so many wonderful memories of publishing parties and events throughout my nine years in public education – and I hope to have many, many more in the years to come!

This article is the last in a three part series on the topic of “Internalizing the Writing Process”.