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The Only Writing Skills You Need to Teach {Informational Text}

The Only Writing Skills You Need to Teach {Informational Text}

As you probably know by now from all of my writing-related postings of late, I’m obsessively thinking about writing. It is a topic that I used to tiptoe around because I didn’t have a clue as to how to teach it. But now I’ve constructed the skill of writing, and I feel so much more confident in talking about it – phew!

One of the things that’s in the front of my new book is a roadmap (Side note: The graphic is so cool – and I love looking at it!) that shows the questions that a writer asks along the path to completing a writing project. It’s simple, but I believe that is boils the informational text teaching down to exactly what kids need to know how to do – without fluff.

Here are the questions and the relating skills that students need to know how to ask and do as they write informational text. This chart simulates the steps in the thinking of successful writers and links it to the skills that help “answer” that question.

Step 1 What do I want to tell the reader? Teach students how to Brainstorm and Content Map
Step 2 How do I approach my writing so that I can have the biggest impact on my reader? Teacher students how to Setting a Formal Tone
Step 3 How do I logically order my ideas so my most important points are obvious to the reader? Teach students to Organize Their Writing and Outline
Step 4 How do I grab the reader’s attention? Teach students to Write a Thesis
Step 5 How do I format my writing in a way that highlights my most important information? Teach students to Format Text
Step 6 How do I create a natural flow of ideas so that my writing is easy to read? Teach students to Develop a Topic and Create Transitions
Step 7 How do I make an impact on the reader and compel him to do something after he’s done reading? Teach students to Write a Conclusion
Step 8 How do edit my writing for ideas, connections and mechanics? Teach students to Revise, Edit and Proofread

 

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If you found this remotely helpful, then you’ll find this infinitely helpful!

Why I Think PLCs are a Waste of Time

Why I Think PLCs are a Waste of Time

One of the things that I’ve become really aware of lately is how much time is wasted in schools on things that really don’t have a big enough impact on kids to make them worthwhile.  Some examples of things that I think take up a TON of time and don’t have a huge return on the investment:

  • Staff meetings where we review things that are already written down somewhere
  • Elaborate newsletters and parents notes that barely get read by parents because they’re so overwhelming and generally TMI
  • Professional development where there is no expectation of anyone doing anything once they’ve attended
  • Most emails from anyone about anything
  • Parent conferences where we tell every parents the same thing…but just meet with them individually because it makes us feel like we’re doing something

But the one time-waster that I hear about 97.13341329480981234% of folks talking about and referring to?  PLCs.

For those of you who have somehow escaped the hype, PLC refers to Professional Learning Community.  When I ask what a PLC does, things start to get murky.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

  • PLCs are the place where we talk about student data (My thought: So then why do you have PLCs AND data meetings?  Aren’t they the same thing?)
  • PLCs are the place where we don’t name kids by name (My thought: So then what on earth do you say?  “Student X, who shall remain nameless, needs intervention for something that we can’t talk about.”????)
  • PLCs are different from staff meetings, professional development and team or department meetings (My thought: Then why can’t anyone explain to me HOW they’re different?  Or better yet…why they’re different?)
  • PLCs require a lot of training (My thought: I talk to hundreds of folks who have been to PLC training for days in another state and come back and can’t answer the on-the-ground who/what/when/where/why/how questions about it.)
  • PLCs are not for lesson planning (My thought: If perfecting lesson planning is a major way to improve the quality of our instruction, then why on earth would be meet not talk about lesson planning and lesson results?  Or better yet DO THE WORK that prepares us to teach well?
  • PLCs are the safe place where teachers can come together and talk about new ideas and try new things (My thought: I’m all for this!  But I think know that trust is built while we do the work and by talking about the work, we aren’t doing the work, so how do we build a safe place for teachers to try things when we don’t get around to doing those things

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m starting to sound like I hate PLCs.  I don’t.  I mean, I might hate them…if I knew what they were!

Here’s the real deal: I think PLCs are the new name for something we’ve wanted teachers to do for a long time: work together to make the job of teaching kids do-able and spend a lot of time putting their heads together to think of logical ways to teach kids things so they learn them and retain them and do really well on assessments that show what they know and in life in general.

But I think that title is a little too long?  We could do what us educators do really well: give it an acronym! WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG.

If all we wanted teachers to do is WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG (I’m laughing just typing that!), then why do we make it so fussy and difficult!  And even more importantly, why don’t the people who have to do PLCs each week know what a PLC is and what it should look like when it’s running well?

I have added PLCs to my list of things that are huge time wasters on school campuses because I don’t see that we have consensus about what they are and why we do them.  Anything that doesn’t have purpose and an outcome or something to go and do because of the meeting is a huge waste of time, in my experience.  I think it’s easy to say “we are doing PLCs” or “we are having our PLC” but what I’d really love to hear is “I can’t WAIT until our PLC where we can discuss ____________________________” or “My PLC isn’t going to BELIEVE how my kids knocked that last quiz out of the part because I changed my lesson in X way.”

But I don’t hear that.

Why?

I think that PLCs have an identity problem that’s leading to a lack of meaning.  And an identity problem can lead people to wonder, “Okay…but…what’s the POINT?”

I kind of wonder that when I’m thinking about how our clients and other educators I run into use PLCs.  I guess that’s the real question: What are we using PLCs for?  To talk about kids?  To talk about teaching?  To talk about school climate?  To talk about assessments?

I guess what I would love to see happen every single day in schools is this:

Teachers getting together for WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG…remember that good, ol’ fashioned, simple acronym I shared above?

What does WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG look like?

  • Teachers meet to talk about kids
  • Teachers look at data to be able to talk about kids
  • Teachers spend some time talking about how recent professional development will help them solve problems or concerns about data
  • Teachers spend time talking about how implementing the stuff they learned from professional development should have impact on their kids
  • Teachers spend time sketching out how they will do the thing from professional development with their kids
  • Teachers set a time limit to try the new thing they’ll do to solve problems or concerns about the data
  • Teachers pick a time to come back and bring their data a check-up on how it went

Why do I think that this plan works?

  • Because it’s focused on the thing that we have control over (what the kids do, what we do)
  • Because it’s focused on doing things, not just talking about them
  • Because it’s an honest plan (we use the data, not just how we feel about things, to determine what we need to work on and what’s worked
  • Because it focuses on the thing that is most important on school campuses (the quality of the teaching)
  • Because it takes the magnitude of making changes in the classroom less dramatic (we talk more like, “Let’s try this thing for two weeks and come back and report how it went.”  Nothing’s permanent unless it’s working and we make it permanent)
  • Because it’s built upon the idea that teaching is flexible…it’s experimental to a certain degree
  • Because it puts the control in teachers’ hands

I mean it’s not really about PLCs…it’s about thoughtful use of time we have with colleagues.  If time is so limited (in fact, it is the #1 thing that teachers tell me about what makes their jobs challenging), then I think we have to be especially choosy about how we spend the time we do have.  I think that the practice of collaboration (PLCs or otherwise!) is a great place to start analyzing.

I’d like to encourage you to start by asking your teammates this question…

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Are we talking about the right things during our meetings or are we just talking about things?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to waste time, then you’ll appreciate this!

“Get Back On Track” Questions for school leaders (and an example)

“Get Back On Track” Questions for school leaders (and an example)

I suffer from good-idea-itis.  I have trouble sorting out the good ideas from the good ideas that are right for my organization.  Can you relate?  When we work with schools, we see a bunch of hugely motivated people often working on the wrong thing.  Or at least the wrong thing for them.  I find that this is a great time to stop and take stock so we don’t spin our wheels all year long and wonder how on earth it happened!

Here are my most helpful “taking stock” questions:

Question 1:  What are you willing to “go big” on?

What is it that is so important, instructionally, that if every teacher improved it just a little bit would make a huge impact on student achievement?

Question 2:  What will you have to do to “go big” on that thing?

  • What will the people need to do?
  • What will you need to do?
  • What will your leadership team have to do?
  • How will teacher teams need to work on this?
  • What materials do you have to get this done?

Question 3: What good ideas will you have to leave behind?

Good ideas WILL need to be left on the table to make room for the really great, important ones.  What are good ideas that you don’t want to give up, but need to, so that you can move forward on the excellent stuff?

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Here’s an example of what that might look like in real life!

Question 1:  What are you willing to “go big” on?

We are willing to go big on using instructional aides to teach important skills to the most struggling students during language arts instruction for 40 minutes daily instead of pulling students out to work outside of the classroom teacher’s control.

Question 2:  What will you have to do to “go big” on that thing?

  • We will have to look at the data to determine which grades need the most instructional time with aides right now
  • We will have to adjust schedules in all grade levels
  • We will have to stop using aides to cover classes or duties as needed – will need a permanent solutions to how they “fill in”
  • We will have to find co-planning time with aides and classroom teachers
  • We will have to train instructional aides on very specific techniques for intervening on the foundational skills with the lowest performers
  • We will have to design routines for the aide entering the classroom and getting kids to the right spot so we don’t lose instructional time
  • We will plan to reassess this plan every six weeks and make adjustments

Question 3: What good ideas will you have to leave behind?

  • That our new program will solve every problem we currently have in bringing kids to benchmark in LA
  • That lowering class size/group size is our #1 priority and will make the biggest difference
  • That centers are the answer to grouping kids and providing targeted instruction
  • That by isolating students outside of the classroom in small groups makes them focus even more than if they were peeled off within the classroom

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If you found this post helpful, you’ll probably really find this and this helpful, too!

The Q & A Series #5 of 10 | Work Weekends?!

The Q & A Series #5 of 10 | Work Weekends?!

Question: What kind of teaching work do you do on the weekends?

Answer:  Truth be told, I carried work home with me, set it by the front door and then never touched it until I picked it up early Monday morning to cart it back to school!  Note: See #3 in this series for more on this!

If I did take something home to work on during the weekend, I made sure it was something that was creative and mindless…something I could do while I watched TV or chilled out on the coach.  Maybe something that I wouldn’t normally take a ton of time on during the week like prepping an art project, looking online for ideas for an upcoming unit, sorting papers or cleaning up my files.

I just realized really quickly that a teacher who had worked all weekend was a crabbier teacher on Monday.

We need our breaks…and I take breaks pretty seriously!

The Q & A Series #9 of 10 | A Lesson Tanks?!

The Q & A Series #9 of 10 | A Lesson Tanks?!

Question: What do you do when you know a lesson is tanking?

Answer: Well, this happens to all of us for different reasons.  Sometimes a lesson tanks because I haven’t prepped properly, sometimes because I thought they knew something that the needed to know and they really didn’t or…well…because it’s a full freaking moon!  You know how that goes!

I have been given really good advice in my life that totally applies to a tanking lesson: When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Yep.  When I notice a lesson isn’t going well and my attempts to fix it are falling flat, I just say to the kids something like, “You know what?  We’re having trouble here and we need to start over again.” And then I start over.

Usually the kids look at me like, “Yeah, it wasn’t really going well!”  It’s not a mystery when a lesson is struggling!

I also thinks that hitting that ‘start over’ button is a really good model of resilience.

The Illusion of Equity in Education, Part 1

The Illusion of Equity in Education, Part 1

I am, admittedly, becoming an old lady who really is loving spending time thinking about things.  I remember growing up hearing about people taking weeks and months and years to think about things in order to form their opinion or action on something.  I thought that just sounded plain ol’ BORING.  I mean…just sitting around thinking? Um…no thank you.  I am all about action. (Ha!)

But I find myself more and more distressed and curious about how things are in education.  How, in my opinion, we are just off and running on things that really don’t have anything to do with teaching.

If you’ve heard me talk at all, you know I take shots at trends in education that I really find ridiculous and downright demeaning to our profession.  (You know, things like spending a preponderance of time and resources on flexible seating…)  But one of the things that I am really thinking a lot about and doing some researching on is this concept of equity in education.  It appears to the be the buzzword of the year and, in my opinion, has some veiled something underneath it…it’s a loaded term.

Today I decided to go to the good ol’ YouTube and search “equity in the classroom” and I watched this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiEKs01ZIho.  It was the first one that popped up in my search, so I decided to watch it even though I don’t know the man in the video and I don’t know of his organization.

He starts off giving a pretty rambling definition of what equity is and I’m already suspect because if something can’t be easily explained then I think it’s a veil for something else.  Confusion where we need clarity is dangerous, I’ve come to see.  And I have encountered a ton of confusion and double-talking and rambling from the “experts” on the subject of equity.  But I digress…

Here is his rough definition:

“The need to focus more directly not simply on equal opportunity.  This is making sure kids have access to schools. Also, focusing outcomes and results.  Most parent practice equity with their own kids by not treating them all the same. Schools should focus on outcomes.”

Um. Ok. Wait…what?

So, to use his analogy, if a parent has two children and one struggles to settle into bedtime and the other doesn’t, their nighttime routines might need to be different.  The easy-to-bed child might need brushing teeth, a story, a kiss and a squeeze and goodnight…maybe a 15 minute process.

The hard-to-settle-into-bed might need a 30-45 minute routine that includes a timer set to keep things moving and a choice of pajama options and TV turned off 30 minutes before bedtime and laying out of the clothes for tomorrow and a full debrief of the day.  The end result or the outcome, is the same: settling down and going to sleep in bed for the night.

Now let’s equate that to a 1st grade teacher: She has two students.  One is highly performing and comes to her class with excellent skills in place. The other student doesn’t have quite the same skills and requires more practice.  So, the teacher does some pre-teaching with the not-as-skilled student before teaching is so she’s primed the pump and given extra repetitions on the skills to boost up the student.  When she teaches the new concept to the whole class, the skilled and not-so-skilled student both learn the concept, but the path to learning the concept has been a bit different.

Is this equity? Because it sounds an awful lot like differentiation.  And haven’t we been doing this for a long time?

Why the need for the word “equity” and its rolling definition when we’re really describing something teachers have been doing for a long time?

I’m left wondering what’s REALLY going on here?

If you’re into things like clarity and simple messaging, then you’ll probably like this and this.