October 28, 2013

Where Text Structure Can Lead You

            In our quest to discover text structure evidence, I felt I was loosing myself, and the kids, time and effort in other reading tasks.  Was I spending too much time on it, was it that important, what was this really about?  Then I opened my eyes!  I saw what I was really teaching them!  So, here it is!

    1.    Key details and support:  When you are looking for evidence for text structures, you are pulling out key details and support for whatever the topic is, in either type of reading.  In informational text, we were defining and explaining the topic through key details.  In fiction, we were pulling out key details and support for each of the characters we were investigating! 

    2.  Main idea:  If you are pulling key details and support, this leads to the most natural learning of main idea.  You have to know what you are reading about to pull evidence and support!  

    3.  Summary!:  Yes, summary!  As we were circling and highlighting and finding and writing, it jumped out!  We were gathering information for a summary!  We could use that information, in order, to write a summary-for either type of text feature!  It was right there, and I couldn’t see it at first!

4.  Character traits:  This comes naturally in the descriptive pieces Roald Dahl writes.  Students were gathering traits about them that they could use to prove that they really understood who the character was and how their behavior impacts the text! 

Awesome!  I was so surprised!  I had it planned that we would work on summary, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about teaching it, how I would target the work for success, and it was staring at me!   And it all came together through grading a homework assignment.

            For homework, the kids have been reading nonfiction texts.  They need lots of practice with the basic and these are working.  One of the ones that they read the week I was sorting through all this thinking was Spider Silk.  As suddenly as the skills popped out to me, so did the parts of a spider-as a graphic organizer!  Spider Silk was a descriptive text that they could pull evidence from and practice all the skills above.  And, I was feeling bad about not doing a single, fun holiday activity.  I came up with a readcraftivity-a reading activity that is a craft!  Here’s what we did.

            First, I cut off the bottom of the assignment.  I didn’t want the distracted by the questions they got right or wrong.  I passed it back out for them to read and highlight.  Here’s a student using their reading journal as a guide-amazing!!

Next, they chose the 8 most important facts and wrote them on black strips of paper.  These strips could be arranged in an order that allowed them to group ideas together. 

Then they went to work on writing a summary.  I had gone through what a summary is and made a chart.  This is a copy of a chart I found on Pintrest. 

 (Sorry of the bad pic-no phone today!)

Once I approved their summary, they wrote it on the body of the spider.  Then they glued the 8 legs in the order that they used them in their summary.  The final touch was to add eyes to a head and write the main idea on the head! 

(Here's I built to show the kids)

I feel like this is what text structure really can do for kids!  It can answer so many questions and thoughts and wonders.  It is not just about what is on the page and why. It is about all this, and more.  We have two more to look closely at-compare and contrast and cause and effect!  I have questions now about how these will impact real learning, what I can do with them, and the effect it will have on the kids, and I am truly excited to find out.  And, there may be a turkey readcraftivity in my future!

October 27, 2013

Descriptive Text Structure: Way More than I Ever Expected to Discover!

            In an earlier post, I explained how I have been focusing on text structure.  We have been hard at work looking at descriptive text structure.  We followed a similar fashion of learning about sequential text structure.  We glued in our two guiding pages into our reading journal.  Why two you ask?  In Florida, we can never do what the rest of the world does-we have to make our own standards and rules.  The rest of the educational world knows this text structure as descriptive, but for the FCAT they need to know it as define and explain.  This actually works out ok, because there is some foundational learning by using that terminology.  Anyways, here’s how we rolled out learning about the descriptive text structure.

First, we examined our Science books.  Our first, in the book, chapter starts out with this very text structure.  We used the graphic organizer to break down the information found in the text.  This was relatively easy.  It was descriptive AND IN ORDER!  We were able to look at how important each term was to the MAIN IDEA of the page.  What we took away was that this descriptive/define and explain model helped us to understand what groups of plants are.

Next, we hit up our mentor text, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  In our reading journals, we built a model of the graphic organizer.  Students charted one of the characters, Veruca Salt, from one of the chapters.  It was rather obvious that this was a descriptive chapter-Roald Dahl does an excellent job at switching back and forth between the two at the beginning of the text.  The students gathered all the evidence they could to support the definition of descriptive texts.  Here are a couple of samples of what they came up with. 

From this, we were able to determine, yet again, that it was IN ORDER!  There is a fine line between these two text structures.  They both organize themselves, but, as a student pointed out, descriptive is SUPER organized so that the description overpowers the sequencing.  Very interesting.  Yes, the author has to be SUPER organized to get their point across when they are writing in the descriptive style.   Amazing learning!

We were ready now-ready for a bigger challenge.  At this point, we dug out our reading journals, we grabbed our Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and we added to this a blank piece of construction paper!  Construction paper!  Yes, it was time for a construction paper challenge.  On the construction paper, students created two boxes.  At the top, they wrote, “Sequencing:  Chapter ___ Evidence.”  On the other side they wrote, “Descriptive:  Chapter ___ Evidence.”  Then I pointed them to chapter 9 and 10!  Their mission-discover which one was which and provide at least 4 pieces of evidence- it was amazing!  They dug in and searched through each chapter to find the evidence.  They used key terms and the facts columns to justify their selections.  If they got off the scent, it was easy to point them back.  In fact, I had a table of 4 where 3 were going in the wrong direction and one of my struggling students could justify and explain why to them!  Here are a few samples of the end product.

We also made a chart of our discoveries.  This chart included the sentences the students found and some of our own discoveries about how the lengths of paragraphs impacted the type of text it was as well! 

Even with all this learning, I was beginning to question myself-was I spending too much time on this, was it important enough to spend this time on, was there enough here to keep going?  Boy, did I discover what I was really teaching!  I’ll be posting again tomorrow, because I don’t want to get too close to Halloween because it involves a fun “readcraftivity” opportunity to try with a descriptive text!!!

October 20, 2013

Looking, and Finding, the Answer to Conceptual Grading

About 3 weeks ago, we had an inservice at our school that answered my question, finally!  Or, at least in my mind, it did!  I’ve been having this ongoing conversation about what conceptual grading looks like and acts like, with many questions still lingering. One of the lingering questions was, “How does this look for each skill?”  I mean, I had examined my practice and figured out what I was doing, but I couldn’t pin it down for EACH SKILL!  Then, bam, the inservice hit!

So, here’s what went down!  Our district is still looking at training intermediate teachers in Common Core.  This particular inservice dealt with how to determine the success of a student based on learning ladders and continuums.  At first, I was skeptical.  I had never heard of either, and I’m out there a lot!  I pin, I read blogs, I follow multiple teachers on Facebook, I’m out there!  We discussed the rigor and the purpose, and that’s when I began to believe.  The purpose behind a ladder or continuum is to:

1.     Establish the clear and concise expectations for a skill.  During our inservice, it was support for the text. 
2.     To provide a clear and concise example of the expectation to the students. 
3.     And, if determined ahead, to provide a starting point for evaluating a student on the skill to be taught over a period of time. 

It was like hitting the mother load!   I started to see the realities of what could be done with a tool like this!  I saw the connection between these tools and Marzano’s Rubric for Learning.  This is what I’ve been searching for!  Can you tell I’m excited!!??

            How would this look in a classroom setting was my next thought-bam, answer provided!  There was a cool video about how to work with them.  The teacher had a small group of students with her and they had provided answers to a question she had asked in class on a post-it.  The kids then shared their answers and worked with one another on the continuum.  They had to agree on the placement with each other before the post-it could go on the continuum.  My thought, “I could TOTALLY do this!”  I completely believe that if you are going to teach a child how to do something, they need to know how to self-evaluate to be successful.  Many children do not go through elementary being able to do this very thing.  They have only been shown what teachers think of their work, and that is how they answer questions-to provide what the teacher wants.  Many of the open-ended questions we ask have multiple answers with none of them being wrong.  We need to be sure we begin to support our students in the skill of self-evaluation!  It is, after all, a life skill. 

            Now, to get to the transition from inservice, to classroom use.  During the inservice, I had already targeted a skill-author’s purpose.  My teaching partner and I had determined through assessments that students really only “got” author’s purpose on the very basic level- to entertain, inform, or persuade.  They did not, and, as the case is, many cannot get it on a conceptual level.  From this need of conceptual understanding, I developed a power point about Roald Dahl.  Here is a page from it.

Through this power point, we targeted Author’s Perception, the deeper part of author’s purpose.  As you research this, you will discover that the two are very separate, but are placed under the title of author’s purpose.  Our goal with the power point was to show them how important an author’s life and understandings are to the text.  Here is another example:

Roald Dahl was Charlie in so many ways, and that’s what this slide represents.  Imagine having the President of Cadbury bring you chocolates to try!  How would that torture you through your entire life!  How did Charlie feel about chocolate?  That’s a pretty good example of the perspective Roald Dahl brings to the text, isn’t it!
The kids were really getting it!  They could see, with their own background knowledge of the text from the movie, that this was important stuff! 

            Next, to bring a deeper thought development to the process, we assigned a thinking map!  Thinking maps are used to help kids use their own thought processes to develop understanding.  By not giving too much information or requirements, you can begin to see the child’s understanding emerge, or not. Each time they read, they can add to their understanding.  The more they share, again, the more understanding, or lack of it, comes forth. To be honest, I have some struggling readers making some deep insight into author’s purpose because of this.  I have some stronger readers with fewer insights.  It is my plan to go back to these and really examine them to determine who needs additional practice and who may, simply, need to learn how to transfer their thinking to question format. 

            After starting this process, I introduced the Author’s Purpose continuum. 

This is in kid friendly language.  I shared what each level looked and sounded like.  Then I let the kids get to work using one of the characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Then I let them work with their team to decide what level of author’s purpose they were on.  I was amazed to see them bring points out about each entry and how they felt each other did.  It showed up in two ways- in their oral discussion and in their reading journal entries. 

For the entry, I had them put their post-it in their journal, record what their team said, and, then, I responded with what I thought.  Most were right on!  The next step is to do this activity. 

The students will write in their reading journal “how” to get to a higher level on the continuum.  From this experience I discovered that most kids want to write about the “who” of a character.  Who they are, what they do, etc.   Author’s purpose is really more about they “why”-why the author included them, why the author made them behave a certain way, why did the outcome occur. This is where the impact is. 

I am really excited to see where we go with this study.  I will share more as we go.  If you have any great ideas for author’s purpose, I’d love to hear about them.  Feel free to leave me a comment or a website that you have had success with!


October 4, 2013

It's All About Text Structure!

      October is Text Structure month!  No, really, it is!  At least in my class!  I had planned on looking at this much earlier than this, but we’ve finally gotten there-and I’m kind of glad it took this long!  Here’s what’s been going on so far!

         Way back in September (last week!), we started to look at sequencing.  I think we, as teachers, assume that kids really know this structure naturally.  I know I did.  Well, was I surprised, for a second year, that my students couldn’t order their knowledge in a way to be able to write about what they’ve read IN ORDER!  Students were writing, but in random order of events.  So, we backed up to basics.  I began by having the kids reread just the beginning of the story and then write about that.  And it worked!  They were able to break down the very simple parts of the story and put them in chronological order.  However, it took 3 days!  This is way to long for kids to be able to write a simple summary. 

         Now, let me back up even further.  This summer, when I was breaking apart the Test Specifications from the state, I discovered there were very specific expectations for text structure.  Questions were given that targeted the WHY of having specific structure in texts.  Yet, everything we use, including sample tests, DOESN’T have questions that target this information.  That led me to start to BUILD structures to guide my teaching-and an extensive search to FIND them too!  It was quite a search.  And a lot of work! 

         There isn’t a whole lot out there is what I discovered.  When I did stumble upon things, they were usually things for the teacher to use or basic worksheets.  So, the lingering question for me was, “What do I do for my kids, right now.”  I also wanted to use my reading journals more this year.  I have used reading journals successfully in the past, but last year it sat on the back burner frequently.  The kids are not really capable, at this point, to add lots of information to their journals.  I started to think about premade notes for them.  And that’s what I’ve done.  I made premade pages for them to put into their reading journals.  I also looked at the graphic organizers that I found throughout the professional materials that I examined. I tried to create a basic organizer for kids to use with each type of structure.  I added a basic question for completion after the first use and for after creating a replica organizer and filling it out.  Here’s how it looked in lesson format.

         First, I passed out the student page.  I had to shrink it to fit their journals (86%) and trim off the edges.  They glued it in and then I had them come over to meet.  We discussed the information on the page.  I’ve included the definition, the facts, signal words, questions to ask yourself, and a place for examples. Then I had them hit the books.  We had completed the first story in the reader, a chapter excerpt from Because of Winn Dixie.  I sent them back into the story to search and find key words and phrases that signal it is a sequenced text.  

Before I knew it, they were asking me questions about words and phrases within the families given on the list.  We had a discussion about before and begin and how they were connected.  They were writing like crazy and finding tons of evidence.  Evidence, the key of what I was hoping for.   It was actually happening!  And then, IT happened…someone asked if sequencing was about moving through time!!!  Oh, how it made my heart sing!  I made them stop, I made this child ask me again, with all kids looking, and I repeated my answer!  I also went over to our chart that we are using to show text structure types and wrote it on there!

A shift through time.  It was a magical moment!  I could see into our reading and writing future and know that I could go back to that moment to use the term over and over.  That’s what it’s supposed to be all about by the time they get to this level.  It had happened!  We were ready for the next step.

         The next step was looking at our informational text, which happened to be our science series big book that is used for the nature of science lessons.  In that text, we meet Luke Dollar, a scientists studying the fossa.  I passed out the graphic organizer and together we filled in the information.  That did take a while, which was fine because it really set the kids up on what they had to do.
         The next day I had them pull out their reading books again and complete the same organizer in their reading journals.  This way they have the sample in their reading journal and a completed product to help their thinking along.  They used the chapter excerpt from Lewis and Clark and Me to make the graphic organizer.  Than I had them work together to answer the questions of “How did this tool help me?"  They were able to see more clearly that both texts were sequenced even though they were two different types of writing!  Awesome!  I’m pretty excited about how well this worked!  I also think it is foundational to start with sequencing.  This is the most familiar text structure to the students.  It builds the blocks needed to go to the next step, descriptive! 

         I’m almost ready to go to descriptive and I will share how I’m doing it and how it goes soon!  In the mean time, I’ll be sharing some information on author’s perspective in the next few days! 

Julie :O)