This I Believe and Memoirs

I want to take a moment and say thank-you to everyone who comments on my blog and actually read it.  Though I don’t get a lot of readers compared to most bloggers, I am happy to be as transparent as I can be to any teacher or educator.

With that being said, I took a few days off from blogging because I have been working on my book.  I will continue to give updates on the book status as things continue to progress. Rest assured, I have been writing, just not on my blog.

The last few days have been rather adventurous for my students and myself.  We kicked off Monday right away with the mobile laptops in the classroom.

7th graders are writing their first drafts of their “This I Believe” essays. As mentioned before the students did a Wordle as their brainstorming and on Monday they visited a website where they could read and listen to some sample essays.  They visited http://thisibelieve.org/themes/. There the students could choose from thousands of essays.  The students brought their ear buds in that day and I instructed them to listen to and read along to three different essays of their choice. As they were doing this, they had their writing journals next to them and they were listing characteristics they found similar between the three essays. When they finished I gave them all a link to a Google Document titled: “Characteristics of “This I Believe Essays”.  All of the students accessed this link I posted on Schoology they began to feverishly type on the document while it was projected on the screen.  When students were done after about 8 minutes, we discussed all of the characteristics they found in common between the three essays by looking at what they posted on the Google Document.  This class discussion let us into our rubric for their essay.  I asked the students if they noticed the similarities between the characteristics they noticed and what was listed on the rubric.  Many faces lit up and it started to click with them that they already knew what was required of them and it wasn’t going to be too difficult.  Students then had time to begin their rough drafts that were due today.

Common Core Standards Covered by “This I Believe” Essay:

 W.7.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  1. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  2. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
  3. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
  4. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
  5. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

W.7.4 – Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

 W.7.6 – Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others, including linking to and citing sources.

With the narrative unit pushing forward in 8th grade as well as 7th grade, the 8th graders continued their work on memoirs Monday.  Similar to the 7th graders, they had to look at two memoirs and discuss the characteristics they saw in each of them. I then asked them to extend their thinking and give each one of them a grade and give reasons as to why the student earned the grade they gave them.  It was very interesting to see the grades assigned for each of the memoirs and the comments the students gave.  Many students discussed detail or lack of detail, grammar mistakes, and spelling mistakes.  Both essays that were given to the students were polished student writing and we discussed this as we began to discuss the rubric for the memoirs.  A great extension would be for the students to grade the pieces using the rubric I assigned to them.  As with a lot of things I used a rubric I found online that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  Again, the students were given time to start their rough draft in class.

Common Core Standards Covered by Student Memoirs:

W.8.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  1. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  2. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
  3. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.
  4. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
  5. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

W.8.4 – Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 

W.8.6 – Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

We are rolling!  Not only are the students writing narratives, they are reading narratives.  The 7th graders are reading The Acorn People by Ron Jones and the 8th graders are reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  Though we just have just started the reading part, the students are going to be busy.  Between Article of the Week, writing their drafts, and completing vocabulary assignments, we are moving forward with full steam. Enough for now.

Cheers!


Academic Rigor and Common Core Resources

For the past several weeks I have been working on creating a curriculum map for my 7th/8th grade language arts classes.  As a staff, my colleagues and I felt this was important to put into place what and how we are actucally covering each standard and strand in our classroom.  Though this will be a work in progress, I am trying to polish it and make it a document that is ready for next year and the future years to come. Two thoughts have been floating around in my brain for the last several weeks while working on this document.  First, are there educators/professionals out there who have any resources for the The Common Core Standards? Second, I have been really tossing around this term rigor and academic rigor and have some thoughts.

I have encountered plenty of apprehesion and anxiety when talking and teaching other teachers and principals.  I am also well aware of the individuals and groups of individuals who are completely against the CCSS for whatever reason.  Call me crazy, but I am embracing them and with this first year almost under my belt, I am ready for next year and my students will need to be ready too. I admit, I think there are flaws with the CCSS, but overall, they are well thought out. To make the transition easier for myself and for some of the colleagues in my school, there are plenty of resources to consider. Some of them are hardcopy, others are digital. Our language arts department has purchased the flip books and will have them for this summer to look over. The three resources I like the most are:

1.  The Common Core Flip Books by McGraw Hill – The flip book integrates the CCSS with instructional planning strategies. The books include suggested learning targets or “I can” statements for the students.

2. Common Core Curriculum Maps by Common Core – This book has been fantastic at giving me alternative resources to the suggested reading that was povided by the CCSS.  This is not a resource put together by the federal government.  It was written by teachers, for teachers.  They also have a website called Common Core.

3. MasteryConnect has put out an application for those that are Ipad users as well as those Droid users such as myself.  What I like about this resource is it is free. Second, the standards are clear and in plain, every day language.  I often use this as a quick reference when looking at possible activities or lessons for my class.  You can join their website for free as well and choose to have more premium services for a small cost.

Having many resources at my finger-tips has made my transition to the Common Core smooth.  Each resource can be evaluated personally and the user needs to choose which one works better for them.

In addition to looking at all of these resources and having multiple conversations with other professionals, I keep thinking about rigor and academic rigor. Rigor is defined in the dicitionary as strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people. Now, if I take just the term rigor and think about my classroom, I am a very disciplined teacher. My students know their boundries and very few cross them.  This by no means indicates I am a tyrant, but I run a tight ship. On the other hand, academic rigor defined by the Employer’s for Education Excellence website, designed by the Oregon small schools intiative, is:

“When instruction is academically rigorous, students actively explore, research and solve complex problems to develop a deep understanding of core academic concepts that reflect college readiness standards”

The website goes on and discusses other key features such as high expectations for students, cross-curricular activities, etc.  As I read through this site and the others that discuss academic rigor, I am kind of shocked.  It seems there has been this bigger push since the introduction of the CCSS for acadamic rigor (this particular website does not state this).  I hear people talk about how the new standards has more academic rigor and it is going to be more difficult for teachers and students. Why?  As I look at the many components that make up an academic rigourous classroom, I have many of those components in place already.  If you don’t have high expectations for your students, you aren’t doing your job.  My wife is a great example of holding students to high expectations.  She is a band director and is constantly pushing her students to get better every day, every concert, every competition.  Her expectations go up for her students numerous times throughout the year.  We should all be doing this.  Why do we need the Common Core Standards to jump start us into becoming more academically rigorous? Academic rigor should already be in place if we are going to prepare students for college or career. 

Cheers!