Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Leave of Absence

With regret, I am sorry to say that I will be taking a medical leave of absence effectively immediately.

I hope to return in January upon consultation with my doctor.

I will very much miss

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Writing Awesomeness

In a previous post, I discussed how I like to co-create 'success criteria' with other words, determine together the quality of a particular piece of work. We have done this thus far with our reading responses, and our math communication. This week, we are turning our attention to writing personal narratives.

Students have already written a 'baseline' narrative for me. I asked them to give me a sample of their 'best work'...but I did not give any other specific criteria. "Just tell me about a Life Event", I said (which can be a trip, a hockey game, an afternoon at the beach...). I wanted to see what students would naturally be inclined to produce. What is their starting point?

We set those aside, once completed, and then turned our attention to three samples I provided, each of a particular quality. I asked students to judge those pieces to determine which was better and why.

Students know quality work when they see it. The trick is defining what makes it of better quality.
Through that discussion process, we determined that these are the qualities of an awesome (or effective) personal narrative.

·      TITLE
o   Intrigues the reader, they have questions in their mind, they want to read on

o   Intrigues the reader, they have questions in their mind, they want to read on

·      DETAIL
o   specific, descriptive, includes 5 senses (touch, sound, taste, sight, smell) as much as possible
o   should be easy to visualize/imagine

o   are various (different types and lengths, not all the same)
o   not just simple and short ones. (Not just 'I saw the dog. The dog smiled')
o   Some are complex. (When I saw the dog, he smiled. In other words, use commas!)
has accurate punctuation

o   interesting, different, and not boring

·      DRAMA
o   Uses dialogue and sound words like WHAP

·      FOCUS
o   is on one event, which is described in depth
o   each paragraph has its own focus

This will for the basis of the editing process. Students will next turn to their original work and see where they can improved, based on this checklist.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Playing With Point of View

We have been having a lot of fun with our read aloud of the mysterious novel Skeleton Creek.

Recently, a very mysterious figure appeared at 'the dredge' (a place full of old mining equipment)' One of the burning questions raised by this books is who...or this mysterious figure and why is it at the dredge?

We spent some time today trying to come up with answers. Students had to create a 'reasonable theory', one that made sense based on information already provided by the text. In other words, if we were the author, what solution would we provide for the reader? How would we resolve the question of 'the mysterious figure'?

Once we determined plausible theories, we then played around with point of view. This story is very much told from particular perspectives: Sarah and Ryan alternate the point of view, through Ryan's journal entries and Sarah's video creations. We have NOT heard from the point of view of the mysterious figure, the 'skeleton' faced figure (ghost? person?) who is such a spooky presence to Sarah and Ryan. What might his/her/its story be? 

So today I asked students to write the story from this alternative perspective. This was an informal activity, a quick fun-write for the purpose of initial exploration.

Point of view is an interesting concept we will continue to explore as the year progresses. For example, why do writer's choose a particular point of view over others? What is the benefits to be gained for doing so? What voices are NOT being heard? Are their alternate view points? Etc. 

Below are sound clips of me reading a variety of samples. The first three are written by students (but I am the one reading them). I have included my own version at the end, the one that I wrote. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Criteria for Awesomeness

As I say to the students, part of my job is to 'propel you to awesomeness'...meaning I guide you to be better, to develop your skills effectively.

But how do you know you've become awesome if you have no way of knowing what awesome looks like? Or where you are in relation to it?

That is why I like to spend considerable amount of time discussing the 'criteria for awesome'.  What does 'awesome' look like as a reading response, a summary, a connection to text, a math response, a personal narrative, an essay, an oral presentation, etc. etc? What criteria determines 'awesomeness'?

You may have heard of Levels, such as Level 3 (expected). I like to look at Level 3 and 4 as examples of awesome. I like to have students look at samples of work at all levels (some I create, others I take from previous years, and other are current examples created by students) and have students determine along with me...what defines AWESOME in this situation? How, for instance, is this piece of writing more awesome than this one? What specifically do they do? Let's list it specifically! This list of criteria can then become the base for future student work. 

Thus, the path to awesomeness is a clear road. Everyone knows what to aim for, what to do, and, through my guidance, how to get there. Teachers sometimes use the phrase 'bump it up'--I like to say this, too. "How do I bump up and move closer to awesome?" This is something we will be talking about. 

Each student also has a Feedback Journal...a book where specific feedback related to tasks is written down. Based on that, students can create individual goals for progress.  Students also keep portfolios to track work over time. Reflection is an important part of the process: "how did I do and how can I do better?" 

Students can become quite adept at the process of evaluation and can also then use their 'critical eye' to judge their own work (self assess) and the work of others (peer assess).

Criteria for major assignments are posted here on this blog and always in the classroom.  Students also receive a copy. I strongly encourage students to use the listed criteria to guide progress! 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Class Read Aloud

Today we started our class read aloud, SKELETON CREEK, a very spooky mystery story by Patrick Carman that also includes media footage to complement the text (in the form of Sarah's on-line videos that you access via a password protected website).

As a class, we made inferences (educated guesses) about the text, modeling what all readers do when they first approach a text. We examined and analyzed the cover design(s), and also looked closely at the first few paragraphs.

We will be using this text to model various comprehension approaches, which students will also do independently when we launch our Independent Reading program next week. We are also using the text to examine 'writing tricks' writers convey character, plot/conflict, setting, theme. Today we talked a lot about the sensory descriptions he used to make the fictional world come alive.  What images or sensations appear 'in the mind's eye'?

With this read aloud we are able to explore both 'what good readers do' as they engage in a text but also 'what good writers do' to communicate to their readers.

PLEASE NOTE: Some aspects of this book are indeed spooky, a few of the videos in particular. Rest assured that this material is age appropriate. Gr. 7 level is part of the intended audience, the entire series is also available in the general section of our school library (not Young Adult).  However, if any students finds the videos too spooky, they are of course allowed the option of stepping out of the class during the viewing.  The events of the video can be summarized upon their return.

The reason why I chose this book is because the mystery is VERY ENGAGING! It is 100% NOT boring and students get quite excited and eager to talk about it. It generates high enthusiasm for learning and for having discussions about reading and writing.