30
Sep

#lowtech #notech One-Pagers Make Fun Assessments

There is nothing I enjoy more than learning from other teachers. Teachers by nature are most giving of all people, and love to pass along their best tried and true lessons to others.

While in search of new, creative ways to engage students of all ages in Language Arts, I stumbled upon a wonderful Facebook Group called “2ndaryELA”. The group is made up of Middle School and High School English Language Arts teachers who generously share their experiences (positive and negative)  and lessons with others.  This is where I first learned about an activity called a “One Pager”.  The appeal to me is it gives those students who are visual and creative a way to show what they know. Being a visual person myself, I jumped all over this activity.  I also love that it is low-tech/no-tech!  Sometimes our best ideas don’t require technology, but paper and colored pencils.

An advantage to this activity is it can be applicable across just about any discipline.  Math or science concepts, periods of history, drama, music - no matter what you want to assess, you can use this to do it.

The idea is to use one sheet of paper (we used 8.5x11) to relay a concept (or two or three) using illustrations, color, artistic fonts, or other media.  The first time I introduced it was in a fifth grade classroom where they’ve  just completed the novel “Rules” by Cynthia Lord.  I visit the class twice a week on rotation to introduce writing workshop and literacy instruction.

My rubric for this assignment was simple: the One-Pager must include 2 questions and answers, at least one full-sentence theme statement, one song title related to the theme of the story and an explanation of why it was chosen, 2 important quotes from the book explained,  at least one relevant illustration, and the title and author of the book. I also added that the whole paper should be utilized. The student either met, or didn’t meet each requirement. 

The steps I took:

I did a quick slide presentation to review the idea of themes and quotes, then talked a little bit  about what “relevant illustrations” meant.

Then, a few quick brainstorming ideas were recorded on the board to get them thinking about how they might present their work.

My sample "Rules" One-Pager

I also did my own One-Pager to show them what I was looking for. I showed them how each element was represented in the rubric. I told them again how each will look different because we all connect differently to the book. I reminded them that we don’t have to be artists to create One-Pagers.

Then, we were off and running.

The results were incredible. The teachers loved the idea as well, and went on to incorporate them in other subject areas. I’m adding some of our creations below, but just google “One Pagers”, and check out Pinterest for other applications for them. Here are some "Rules" and "Frindle" One-Pagers:

    

 

I recently presented the idea of "One-Pagers" at an Edcamp which was geared toward incorporating technology and tech-based assessments into the classroom. I strongly believe that #notech/#lowtech teaching can be just as effective and engaging as tech-based teaching, and this activity is a perfect example. Sometimes a piece of paper, some colored pencils or markers and a student's imagination is all you need to show that learning happens.  Besides, you can't hang a computer in the school's hallways. 🙂

12
Apr

Why Read?

     If you haven't yet heard my speech on the importance of reading, it's time. I am a BIG proponent of making sure students are reading to improve their skills and comprehensionincrease their vocabularymake life connections, and enjoy the pleasures of getting lost in an adventure or traveling to another place or time without ever leaving their seat!  Reading is a skill that will benefit us in any job market and any profession.  And, reading makes us better writers! You wouldn't try to play a sport without watching it a few times to see what the game looks like, right? Well, when we read, we are training our brain to see what good writing looks like.  And, reading for pleasure is a hobby we'll enjoy for the rest of our lives.
     Reading also builds a student's "background knowledge", or schema. This is important so that students can connect concepts to experiences, words and events that are already part of their "mental filing cabinet".  A large part of reading comprehension is due to a student being able to relate to, or understand a concept by digging into that filing cabinet. Students with limited background information to draw on may struggle with making the connections needed to fully comprehend a passage they've read. The quickest way to build that background knowledge is not by experiencing it, but by reading about it.
     What many people may not realize is that reading fiction (novels, children's books, classic literature) teaches empathy. According to Keith Oatley, Cognitive Psychologist at the University of Toronto, engaging with stories about people "can improve empathy." He says when we read about other people, we begin to "imagine ourselves in their position (what the kids in school call "making connections"), which enables us to better understand people." How does this happen? "It is because readers are experiencing a lot of situations in a short amount of time as they read, far more than if we spent our lives waiting for those situations to come to us." So, bottom line is that reading is good for more than just academics.
     According to the Global Language Monitor, the English language has over one million wordsBut a typical adult will have a usable vocabulary of only 10,000 to 20,000 words. That leaves a lot of words in our language that aren't being used.   Exposing young children to new words helps them to not only learn the word, but to see the word in action, specifically how the word is used. That's a great thing, especially as our students will be exposed to "higher level" words through standardized testing.
     Remember that reading and reading comprehension spans all subjects - even math!  Imagine struggling to read through a math word problem and not understanding what math calculations need to be done to solve it.  Many students struggle with the literacy of math, understanding the meaning of the vocabulary associated with it. These domain-specific words should continue to be used daily so that they become a part of the student's vernacular.
An easy way to look at vocabulary taught in school is to bucket it into the groupings outlined in the Common Core curriculum:
  • Tier 1 words are basic words that commonly appear in spoken language. These would be common words in our vocabulary. Students are already familiar with these words. For example, "house", "they", and "equal".
  • Tier 2 words are high frequency words used by mature language users across several content areas. These would be words such as "establish" , "obtain",and "verify". As you can tell, these words would be extemely useful for students to be able to use and understand, as they woud be used in many different subject areas ("cross-curricular").
  • Tier 3 words are low-frequency words that are domain-specific.These would be words associated with a particular content area, such as medical terms, music terms, or words associated with a particular occupation.  For example, "mitosis" in science, "civil" in social studies, "personification" in language arts.
 
     In the classroom, the focus on vocabulary in the middle grades and middle school will be on the Tier 2 and Tier 3 words, to help the students expand their understanding of these higher-level words. One way is through repetition. Using the word when speaking will help the student begin to associate the word with it's domain and usage. At home, a way to help students is to review these Tier 2 and Tier 3 words and use them in discussions.  Using the words in conversation will help students understand both meaning and usage. An easy way to see the words in action is by reading different types of material. Both fiction and non-fiction will expose the students to many Tier 2 and Tier 3 words.
 I truly believe that reading is the answer to succeeding in school and in life!
9
Mar

Launching Our First Literacy Fair

Over the summer break, our district toyed with the idea of holding a Literacy Fair during the school year. Much like a Science Fair, the event would consist of each classroom (Grades Kindergarten through 8th) showing off their writing process and samples of their work.  Seemed pretty straightforward. Now we just had to break the news to the teachers that yet one more thing had been added to their plates. (Just what teachers want to hear when they come back to school on Day 1!)

The first thing we did was pull together a small core team of organizers. I was one, along with our Technology teacher, and our Spanish teacher. After some quick Google and Pinterest searches, we seemed confident that we'd be able to share some ideas with the teachers at all grade levels to help them understand what was being asked of them. (I have to say, I'm not sure how teachers survived in the years before Pinterest!) We began a Pinterest page of our own, asking teachers to share any ideas they came across to help each other out.

We did stress to the teachers that the display could easily focus on the great work that we knew would be happening in everyone's classroom, and didn't require the classrooms to do anything additional just for this event.  But, knowing how teachers are perfectionists who LOVE to show off their student's work, we expected that everyone would throw their heart and soul into it. And they did not disappoint.

We acquired funding to purchase enough tri-fold boards for each classroom to have at least one display. The boards were given to the classrooms about a month prior to the event.  We also began reaching out to educational corporations such as GoNoodle, National Geographic and Makey Makey to request donations to be used in some free raffles for those who attended the evening event.  Newsela, that great online resource of non-fiction and current event articles that one can gear towards different leveled readers, graciously donated a one-year subscription to their service which we raffled to our teaching staff.  That was a very welcomed gift.

I'd have to say that the teachers and classes really stepped up to the challenge of the displays. Because literacy plays a role in all subjects, it was wonderful to see that the Middle School Math, Social Studies and Science classrooms also had displays highlighting key domain-specific terminology.  There was a Spanish class display, and the Technology classes showed off their blogs and other technology driven literacy projects. Having chromebooks displaying the tech projects made that table display very interactive for parents and guests.

One other display that turned out to be very popular was the projection of GoNoodle onto a wall at the back of the gym. We set aside an area free of tables in hopes of showing the parents how the kids get a chance to clear their minds and transition using quick GoNoodle activities.  Amanda was able to keep many of the kids entertained, much to their parent's amusement, by playing the short stretching videos and silly songs that the kids enjoy during their school day. The best part of this display was watching the kindergarten kids up through 8th graders all doing the dances together.

The "Project Academically Talented" kids volunteered to do a "wax museum" display. You may have heard of this: kids dress up like their favorite characters and stand like wax figures. A small bell is placed on the floor in front of each display. When someone rings the bell, the characters go through a quick 10-15 second skit or speech about themselves, then freeze again. It's interactive, and the little kids get a kick out of seeing the older ones "acting".

We invited our local county library to host a table to promote their wonderful events and sign families up for library cards. They also brought along their mascot, Sparks, to pose for photos with the children in attendance.  A former student-author, who self-published two books on the history of the town, was also given a table to display and sign his books. Connecting back to the community is important, and we will be sure to always make sure we bring in community diplays in the future.

Our local teacher's union donated cookies which were a big hit (refreshments are welcome at any event!) with both the kids and the parents. We handed out bookmarks that featured a picture of our school mascot as well.

To help spread the word about our event, I printed small labels with the time, date, and "Come see our work on display" colorfully written on them.  The younger teachers put them in the student's homework planners the day before the event to remind parents to attend.

Well, I have to say that we never expected to see a line of families waiting at the door for us to open that night. For the weeks prior, we struggled with predictions of how many families we might see at the event. We were thrilled that night to see our expectations exceeded threefold!

I know that this will be an event that we'll repeat next year, and we'll find ways to grow it.  Enjoy some pictures of our displays from our school's first Literacy Fair!

5
Mar

Working with Young Writers

One of the things I look forward to each year is my after-school Writing Club.  For 10 weeks, middle school students (aged 12-14) sign up to spend an hour after school with me just...writing.  Luckily, my district recognized that not all students are involved in sports so they agreed to allow me to host a club that focused on creativity and writing skills. It's not STEM, it's not homework, it's not chess.  It is just a keyboard, an idea, and a bag of pretzels.  We talk while we write. We talk about ideas, about characters, about showing and not telling, about really cool names for antagonists and protagonists, about plots and conflict and appropriate topics and inappropriate ones.  And we write. We laugh, too, and build relationships and trust.  We need to trust each other since we rely on one another to offer true constructive feedback on our writing pieces.

This is the fourth year we've had our Writing Club.  I'm hoping to expand it next year to include a second session for younger students who have reached out asking to participate. In that group, I'd focus more on writing skills as we write, as opposed to content.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on working with young writers. Feel free to comment!

22
Oct

November Writing Challenge - K-8 (modified NaNoWriMo challenge)

If you haven't heard of it, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It's a time for buckling down, setting some word count writing goals, and spitting out an entire novel in one month's time. While I admire anyone who can actually do this (and it would require almost 2000 words a day!) while holding down a full-time job, I think the idea behind it is too good to waste on just, you know, authors.  So, I've adapted the idea to implement a NaNoWriMo type of event in my school.

Since I'm wearing the hat of "writing coach" now, I feel it's my duty (much to the groans of my already over-worked and overwhelmed colleagues) to introduce great writing opportunities for them to use in their classrooms. The school is a Kindergarten through 8th grade school, but with some adjustments, we've now got ourselves a November Writing Challenge.

The Kinders are working on their letters, so their goal per day is to work on certain letters. They'll track their progress on a chart that they'll display in the hallway. If they can practice 2 letters a day, for example,  we can probably have them writing their names legibly on papers by the time the holidays roll around!

First and second graders are working on sentence structure. They have goals to write (x) number of sentences per day. They'll keep track of what they write as a class (See? Throwing some math in there as well!) and will keep track of their number of sentences each day to see how many they write by the end of the month.

Middle grades, 3-5, are working on stories. They'll be tracking word count, and will try to reach personal goals. Since the students in these grade levels have writing binders, they'll have individual trackers to keep a word count per day. They also use chromebooks which allow for easy access to word count totals. The chart is just a November calendar that they'll keep in their binder, and they will write their own daily numbers on it. Some of the more confident writers will commit to a word count per day, and others will just simply track what they do. Either way, they are writing, and that is what counts.

Our Middle School students, grades 6-8, will be writing stories and tracking word count. One of our Common Core Writing Standards is to "write routinely over extended time frames". Well, here is a perfect opportunity for that.  I'm most excited about the 7th and 8th graders - they will be attempting to end the month with a long story that may reach novella length!

Oh, and the teachers? They aren't passive observers in all of this. In the middle of our main hallway will be a chart to track their progress as they write each day as well. Hey, we walk the talk in our school.  Good sports, all of us, allowing everyone to watch as we color in the squares indicating that we have or haven't been reaching our individual goals each day. (As if we don't have enough pressure grading papers on time, right? *wink*)

Each of the classrooms will celebrate on November 30. And they should. If we can get our students excited about writing, and they improve through this challenge, then the effort put into this event will have been well worth it.

Pictures will be posted of how we tracked, and how we did. Stay tuned!

23
Mar

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For... Alliteration!

Once a week, I have a 40 minute period with the seventh graders. Aside from their daily Language Arts class, this additional weekly class allows us to explore aspects of grammar and writing in more detail. We call it "Language Arts Lab".  This is the class that is mixed with general education and special education students, so I try to keep my lab lessons fun and creative to allow all levels to participate.  A few weeks ago, I decided to tackle the idea of "alliteration", you know, those great tongue-twisters that kids love.

Using the idea of an ice-cream store, the students were given a blank three-scoop cone, a picture of a store-front, and instructions to create an Ice Cream Parlor that focuses on alliteration. The goal was to design a newspaper ad for the store that features some of the store's famous flavors of ice cream, along with a catchy name and slogan.

Immediately, the students began creating ice cream flavors - some delicious, some not-so-delicious - with such catchy names such as Cranberry Cannoli (yum!) and Blazing Blueberry Blast (yum!) and Fish Frenzy (not-so-yum!). The store names were just as fun. Who wouldn't want to grab a cone on Memorial Day at the red, white and blue themed Frozen Frenzy Freedom Factory?

My in-class support partner teacher and I enjoyed watching the ice cream flavors and storefronts come to life. I would recommend this activity to any grade level that wants to grasp the idea of alliteration. Here are some of the finished products that decorated our Middle School hallway after this activity:

alliteration 1 alliteration 2 alliteration 3 alliteration 4