Sunday, February 12, 2017

Read alouds aren't only for English class!

Why does reading a novel have to be compartmentalized to English class?

There’s such a huge push for reading and annotating text in all content areas, and most of these are informational texts. While helpful, I can’t say my students are super excited by reading tasks (although the content might be interesting), and it definitely doesn’t foster a love of reading.

My students were shocked when I told them we would be doing a read aloud in 7th grade science. "Why are we reading a book in science?!" they immediately asked.

We Are All Made of Molecules
The book I chose was We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. I preordered it back in the spring, and when it arrived, I binge read it. It was that good.

The story comes down to Stewart and Ashley, two complete opposites who are thrown together when their parents move in together. It deals with social status and social perceptions, bullying, LGBT prejudice and unhealthy relationships.

If you’re planning to use this book (or any others) with your students, make sure you pre-read it, and decide if it’s appropriate for your students. There are some intense parts relating to Ashley and her boyfriend, which can be shocking or upsetting to some students. However, it all fit in perfectly for my class.

As part of our health unit, we have to incorporate information about LGBT identities, as well as healthy versus unhealthy relationships and dating violence. Even with my passion for teaching help, I was unsure how to approach these topics. The conversations that followed our reading were deep and emotional, and way more meaningful than any Slides presentation.

The Read Aloud
At first, I had no idea how to structure the read aloud. I tried reading at the very end of class, but I kept running out of time. My good friend, Doug Robertson, suggested that I start class by reading. I switched it up, and reading became a habit. It was really nice for students to decompress before moving in to science content.

Each day, my students begged for another chapter! Mind you, many of my students are highly reading-averse...sometimes I indulged their request, sometimes I would quietly close the book while they protested. It took us about 4 months to read the book, although it wasn’t until the last 2 that we actually read steadily.

After the Read Aloud
We finished the book with a huge round of applause. I created a Form for them to share their thoughts on the books, and ask questions to the author. As a class, we narrowed down the questions, and we posted them on our classroom Twitter account (I/we haven’t done much with it as of now, but I’m hoping to add more pretty soon).  Then, we waited patiently for our responses.

Here are a few of the tweets and responses:

Reflections on the Process
I am just in love with the read aloud. First of all, it was such a relaxing way to start class with my squirrely 7th graders. They were super engaged in the reading, and I rarely had anyone being a distraction. This could be a much more ELA-heavy activity, with reading and writing prompts: I opted not to, so my students didn’t feel like we were actually working. Instead, we had partner and class discussions after each chapter.

I’m also so extremely thankful for Susin Nielsen and all her support throughout this process. I reached out to her on Twitter when we first started our read aloud, and kept her updated on our progress. She has an excellent website with educator resources for her books! Thanks for letting us celebrate you!

What’s Next?

Now I’m deciding which book to read next...we’re going to be learning about ecology and the Earth. Considering Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  Suggestions welcome!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Claim Evidence Reasoning with Google Forms

I have a slight obsession with Google Forms. I’ve already written two blog posts about things to do with Google Forms. The first, Using Google Forms for Walkthrough Observations, is specifically for creating a workflow for informal walkthrough observations. The second, Google Forms in my Classroom, is examples of how I use Forms regularly in my classroom and with my students.

This post shares an excellent strategy for scaffolding paragraph writing. Total transparency, I got this idea from the one and only Mark Rounds at the Copper Country Summit back in August! Thanks Mark!

In science, we are focusing on writing Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) paragraphs based on labs and phenomena. Our students struggle with writing in general, and especially with CER. We provide many scaffolds, such as graphic organizers and sentence frames, which helps not only our students who are English Learners and/or RSP, but also those who struggle with writing, or are just having a bad day. This particular scaffold uses Google Forms + Autocrat (Sheets Add-on) to create color-coded paragraphs, and has worked well for all of my students.

Form Set-up
I set up the Form with a separate paragraph responses for Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning (extra Evidence + Reasoning for longer paragraphs). Then, I created a template Doc with <<tags>> that exactly match each question on the Form. Using the AutoCrat Add-on within Google Sheets, I set up the mail merge to turn the form responses into a paragraph.

Here is a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning example. Feel free to fill out this Form to see what the final product looks like! I also created an Autocrat how-to screencast.

After designing my lesson, I sent the Form out to students via Google Classroom. Once they filled out the form, they were instructed to go to their shared with me on Google Drive (or Gmail) to view their Doc. They made changes and corrected spelling and grammar. I was able to click on links to their Docs from the Sheet, making grading easy.

I am amazed at the improvement in my students’ writing. When I looked through the most recent submissions, I was amazed at how much more my students wrote, and not only quantity, but also quality!

Example #1: This student is RSP, and is frequently lost during class. If I had asked her to write this without scaffolds or with simple written instructions, I would have felt lucky to get two sentences! Obviously, her spelling and grammar (and academic writing) are not perfect, but this is a giant leap.
Example #1

Example #2: This student is mild/mod special education, and is mainstreamed only for science. I am very impressed with how he supports his claims with evidence, and writes in complete sentences. He often gets overwhelmed with writing tasks, so breaking it up into tiny chunks allowed him to work independently.
Example #2

Example #3: This student is a Long-Term English Learner (LTEL). She is a hard worker and is conversationally proficient in English, but lacks strong academic English, reading, and writing skills.
Example #3

In my 8th grade AVID class, we have read, analyzed, and discuss multiple articles and sources relating to a single topic. For their writing, I included counterclaim and rebuttal components.

Example #4: This student is one of the top readers and writers in our school. While she did not necessarily need these scaffolds, she reported that this helped her organize her ideas as she was referring back to the articles and resources. She was thrilled with the color-coding too.
Example #4

Now what?
As I try to slowly remove writing scaffolds for students, this will remain a useful tool for students who either need extra support or opt to use it. It’s easy to have a generic Form handy, and even one they can use for other classes or in future school years.

When you try this with students, remember to share how it goes!