Transitioning from Narrative to Informational

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:

  • Magazines
  • Letters
  • Newspapers
  • Internet searches
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

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!

Cheers!


Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!