Larry Ferlazzo notes in his Educational Leadership article “Micro-Writing for English Learners,” that “short burst of writing can boost English language learners’ confidence and skills.” Ferlazzo explains this to be because micro-writing:
As a bonus, the benefit extends beyond our EL students. For all learners—not just EL learners—the above bulleted list still applies. Plus, the recently published Ed Surge article “Micro-Writing is having a Macro Impact on Identity Development,” Bryan Christopher notes that micro-writing can be used as a check for understanding, a pre-write for what will later be shared aloud, or even as a vocabulary builder. Moreover, he notes that, “the value of micro-writing goes beyond academics, addressing social and emotional needs like self-perception and confidence.”
Personally, I love that micro-writing often pushes students to the highest level of Bloom’s, but without taking up large periods of valuable class time. When students write, even just for a small amount of time, they hit the “Creating” stage (level 6) of Bloom’s Taxonomy because they are generating something new with their knowledge. As a bonus, in getting to level 6 of Bloom’s, students often cross through the “Evaluating” stage (level 5) as they create an argument, make a value judgement, or evaluate a problem.
If you would like to try micro-writing in your own classroom, here are three strategies to help you get started:
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For me, it was typically second quarter where I started to feel more like a chicken with no head than an actual teacher. The Thanksgiving and winter break made it hard to pace my lessons, my personal calendar was full with family dinners and social events, yet the assignments kept pouring in. Keeping up with my life and with the papers I had to grade often seemed impossible. When faced with a stack of 160 tests/essays/projects to mark, it’s frankly overwhelming. This is why I would commonly give such stacks rides home at night and back to work the next morning without ever tackling a single paper. It is also why I was always on the lookout for new ways to grade smarter, faster, and better.
Images by Heather Lyke
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Don’t ‘Grade’ Everything
Most things we do in our classroom are designed to be formative, so why put such tasks in the gradebook? Sure, you’ll want to track students’ progress, but does all the progress you monitor have to be accounted for in Skyward? Does it have to be every assignment? What I’m seeing in a lot of classrooms in the district are students who are working just as hard, if not harder, for a comment in the margin or a verbal “great thinking in this paragraph.” So, if our students work harder for feedback that never goes into the gradebook, then why kill ourselves grading everything and then account for all of it in Skyward?
Want to explore this idea more? Consider reading the first two parts of our Grading for Learning series by Brandon Macrafic:
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Provide Feedback Verbally
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- In class one-on-ones — Teachers meet with each student individually (either at his/her desk or by popping by each student’s desk) to talk over a particular task that’s already been completed, work through a problem together, or discuss the student’s thinking.
- Small group — Teachers pull students back in groups of 2-4, often pairing them with others who share similar struggles/successes. Together the students explain their thinking on a shared task, work through a problem that all of them are struggling with, or brainstorm solutions to ensure future academic successes.
- Scheduled one-on-ones — Schedule meetings with each of your students to have them discuss their learning while minimizing the distractions that come from having a classroom full of other students. These can be sessions for all students focused on their accumulated learning/skills, or make-up sessions for students who missed an in-class verbal feedback day or for those needing a bit of extra help. In fact, some of our high schools have weekly Academic Seminars which is a great time to ask students to come in for a verbal feedback session. (Don’t have Academic Seminar? I’ve also seen teachers opt to use their lunch period, Target hour, prep period, and/or before/after school for this same purpose.)
- Make the most of your time together by having talking points sketched out in advance.
- Let students know ahead of time the general area(s) that will be discussed. This limits anxiousness that can sometimes turn into poor behavior choices while students wait their turn.
- Ensure that students, when not being conferenced with, are engaged fully in the day’s activity before starting to pull individuals/groups back for verbal conferences. This often means a culture of engaged learning has been established earlier in the semester, prior to the introduction of verbal feedback conferences.
- Keep conferences short and focused on the topic at hand. It’s easy to let other concerns and agendas squeeze in, but then there’s a risk of students not understanding the purpose of such conferences as well as you potentially not getting to all students in a sufficient timeframe.
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Have Students Assess Each Other
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Homework feedback — Rather than collecting and scoring what student did the day before, have them get together with a partner or a small group and go over the problems or questions you’ve assigned. Have them identify what answers they agreed on and then what answers they disagreed on. Have them compare how they came to their answers—whether they be the same or different. Then, facilitate a full class discussion on the elements that the duo/group struggled with.
- Essay editing — Whether you have partners swap, do paper rotations with no names attached, or have students get together in struggle-alike groups, this is a great way for students to learn from each other while simultaneously being exposed to others’ writings, helping them broaden their own personal understanding.
- Lab report evaluation — Lab groups commonly follow differing procedures, arrive at different results, and/or have varying degrees of details in their notes. Giving students opportunities to see other groups’ lab reports allows them to see their own gaps, struggles, and errors (along with their own successes).
- Project evaluations — Putting students into like-topic or project-type-alike groups and having them provide feedback often gives students a chance to see what they personally missed.
- Students don’t often know intrinsically what good feedback looks like, so first model what these conversations should sound like and consist of.
- Consider norming their expectations by having them look at a “high,” “medium,” and “low” example (specifically when doing peer editing or having peers provide feedback on labs/projects) and having them provide feedback as a whole class, then you can guide them into what feedback is helpful, on pointe, and constructive before they go it alone.
- Provide a guide, such as a rubric or a checklist, to help them stay focused on the learning at hand.
- Commonly teachers have students do this before they turn in the final, often graded, assignment/essay/lab report/project. Adding in this step helps students see what to change before turning in the final version—helping them achieve a better outcome on the final version AND making that final version easier for you to provide feedback on (since work done well is often faster to mark).
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Have Students Assess Themselves
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Self-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, give them some possible correct answers or some specific questions to help them decide if they went down a path that’s viable. Then, have them reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Peer-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, have them join a partner or small group. Then, have them collectively decide on what answers are correct/viable. Once they’ve worked with peers, provide them with a key or detailed rubric, have them score their own work, and then reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Metacognition on processes followed/learning gained — Have students reflect on their score/answers/feedback after you’ve returned a marked homework task, quiz/test, essay, or project. Go over what parameters you used to score them and then have students agree/disagree with this score using the parameters you shared (debate—making an argument that’s supported with detailed explanations—also has a high effect size).
- The trick here is to not simply have students score themselves using an answer key, checklist, or simple rubric, but rather to have them really look at how the decisions they made, the thinking they followed, etc. lead to the outcome. So, while an answer key, checklist, or rubric may be the first step, it’s important to then have students identify areas of struggle, answer questions about how they studied, and plan for how their learning today will impact their actions tomorrow.
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Embrace the Google Suite
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Quick individualized feedback— In Google Forms, when you turn it into a ‘quiz’, you can provide individual feedback. Students receive the feedback almost instantly this way. Plus, for many of us, typing feedback is faster than handwriting it. (Likewise, for many of us, reading typed responses from students is easier than reading their handwriting.)
- Quick rubric feedback — Especially with writing, timely feedback can be difficult. However, in 2017 many of us are collecting our essays online. If you’re not already, consider having students write their papers in Google Docs and then turn their papers in via Google Classroom. If you do this, then you can utilize the Google Add-ons of Doctopus and Goobric. When used together, this makes returning feedback via a teacher-created rubric quick, simple, and paperless.
- Unless you’re super tech-savy, avoid tackling both of these at once.
- Providing individual feedback via Google Forms is the simpler of the two ideas listed above. Want to start simple? Try starting there.
Ideally, some of these tools can help ensure that you have a holiday break free of stacks of tests to grade and/or papers to mark.
When you return from break, hopefully refreshed and ready for the new year, let your instructional coach(es) or one of us from the secondary C&I team know if you’d like to explore any of these ideas together. We’d love to help you save some time.
If you’re anything like the me-of-two-years-ago, your desk has a growing stack of books and professional magazines that you keep intending to read and you’ve accumulated an ever-growing list of books and blogs that you want to check out eventually. Over time, your stack has grown and the list gets longer; in the meantime, you’ve rarely made a dent in the stack—rarely crossed a title off the list.
It’s not surprising that I, an educator, have a thirst for learning new things. A thirst resulting in tall stacks and long lists of ‘Must Reads’. However, since I am an educator, it’s also not surprising that I often find it a challenge to carve out the time to learn all the new things I want to learn—to carve out the time to read.
Lucky for you, the me-of-today has stumbled upon a few tools and structures over the past few years that have greatly changed my ability to tackle professional reading. My book and magazine stack has gotten shorter. I’ve actually begun to cross a few titles off my ever-growing list.
Rethink your Resources
My approch to during-the-school-year professional reading became much more managable when I embraced other ways to access new learning.
- Audiobooks make it possible to 'read' while I drive, while I clean the bathroom, or while I simply sit and enjoy the view from my deck. Many of the titles on my list are ones I can access for free: the Rochester Public Library and the app OverDrive (a free smartphone app for audiobooks and eBooks) make it easy to get my hands on audiobooks for free--you just need a public library card and a device on which to listen. When the local library does not have a title I want, occationally I opt to buy an audio copy: when I do this, I use my Audible app.
- Podcasts, similar to audiobooks, make it possible to learn hands-free. Suddenly, I can read while I simultaneously do laundry, drive around town running errands, or work out at the Y. Not sure where to start? To get started, take a look at this list of "16 Educational Podcasts to Check out in 2017" copiled by Jeffrey R. Young and Mary Jo Madda, or this list of "36 Educational Podcasts" compiled by Leah Anne Levy.
Schedule Time to Read
Sometimes, I need to sit down and read a physical book or magazine. When the book isn't available in an audio version or if I need to annotate the text as a way to read it critically, then I simply need to schedule time in my calendar to read. If I don't, it likely won't get read.
Some scheduling tips:
- Find chunks of time: it's often easiest to dive into a book when I don't have as many things on my plate. For me, this means reading a physical book or two during each break away from students and staff: I embrace winter break, spring break, and summer break as a way to cross a few titles off my list.
- Calendar reminders, whether you use an Outlook calendar, Google calendar, or a phone app like Streaks, it's simple in 2017 to have a reminder pop up on your phone or computer that reminds you to read. I have set a reminder to pop up every Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 AM, and again every weekday at 8:00 PM. Does this make it so that I read every day? Nope. But, because of those reminders, I at least think about it daily, which is a good first step.
Utilize a Professional Learning Network
- Building Book Groups: Many of our RPS instructional coaches host book groups during lunches or after school. If they do, join up! You can get your PLN by connecting with those in your home school.
- Online Book Groups: If physically getting together is hard, online book groups may be a better option for you (I personally facilitated two this year: one on Hillbilly Elegy and another on Innovator's Mindset). These online PLNs allow for flexibility in your schedule and provide you with a larger, district-wide perspective.
- Flipped Book Groups: Sometimes the book that will help you as an educator is vastly different than the books being read in building-wide or online book groups. If this is the case, join a 'Flipped' Book Group, such as Pages on the Patio which will begin this fall. In this book group structure, you get together with your PLN to read and discuss but everyone brings a different book to read. It's differentiation, book-group-style.
Looking for other ideas for how to manage professional reading?
Consider checking out our #RPSLead Twitter Chat that took place on May 17, 2017.
Shared here are the basics of Fishbowl Discussions, combined with many of the alterations I have had the pleasure of observing district-wide.
Setting up the 'Basic Bowl'
Such a description often varies depending on who you ask, but the basics remain the same:
- The inner circle, often consisting of 10 students or fewer, discusses or works through a question/set of questions, a shared text, or a problem
- The outer circle, often consisting the rest of the class, observes, takes notes, silently assists the inner circle, etc.
Teaching Students How to Fishbowl
- Share an explanatory handout with them ahead of time—let them have this with them during the Fishbowl (one such example can be found here)
- Have the basic expectations up on the screen/board for them to reference during the Fishbowl discussion—an example of what this might look like is shown here:
- Share a sample Fishbowl with students (i.e. create a video that you can show students, such as the Chemistry Fishbowl shown below, created by Maria Tan): when sharing a video, try taking time to analyze with students what participants in the video are doing well or could improve upon
Ideas for Insuring Students are Prepared
- After telling students the over-arching topic/problem and/or providing them with the reading that will be the focus of the Fishbowl discussion, give students Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs/sentence stems and have them prepare questions from all/some of the various levels. Then, on the day of the Fishbowl, consider doing one or more of the following:
- Expect students to ask at least one of their prepared questions
- Have students track which of their personally prepared questions are asked by different students as well as which ones they personally ask, and then have students reflect afterward on why unanswered questions were left unasked
- Suggest that students use the questions they prepared but do not require it (their preparation alone will raise the quality of the dialog)
- After telling students the over-arching topic/problem and/or providing them with the reading that will be the focus of the Fishbowl discussion, give students the questions/unique sub-topic/critical lens that their group will be answering/focusing on. Then, have students do outside research or find direct text-support for that answers/supports their provided questions/unique sub-topics/critical lenses
Ideas for Structuring the ‘Bowl’
- Give each group a different problem/sub-topic/question/lens from which to approach the same over-arching topic and/or text
- Give each group a different over-arching topic/text on which to focus and then expect the outside circle to learn from the inside circle’s conversations
- Have students choose which group they want to be a part of (may be based on topic, on day the group will discuss, etc.)
- As a teacher, divide students into groups based on their participation tendencies (i.e. if you need three groups, divide students into those who tend to be dominators, be balanced participants, and be reluctant speakers)
- As a teacher, divide students into groups that are balanced as far as how much preparation students are likely to have done
- As a teacher, divide students into groups based on skillsets/ability (i.e. if you have students who are strong in the area that this Fishbowl will focus on, give them harder questions, a more challenging area of focus, and/or a more complex text to read)
Creating a 'Fancy Aquarium'
- Once students are familiar with Fishbowling, have two Fishbowls going at once (consider having students take over whatever role you typically play as teacher so that you can float between each conversation)
Inner Circle Modifications
- Chipping: To help students be aware of the types of contributions they are making and/or to help ensure balanced voices, try giving each students a certain number of disks (such as tiddlywinks or poker chips) or cards (playing cards or cut pieces of paper): each time a student speaks, he/she tosses a disk/card into the center. Students can no longer speak once all out of disks/cards.*
- Color-Coding: Take the concept of Chipping and kick it up a notch by giving each color/suit a unique meaning. This way, students grow aware of not only how often they participate, but also of how well they contribute.**
Green = ‘Contributor+’ comments (give students a majority of these pieces)
Red = ‘Contributor’ comments
Yellow = ‘Supporter/Peacekeeper/Gatekeeper’ comments (give students 1-2 of these)
* Put a blanket down in the center of the circle to keep the disks from bouncing/making noise--
it also makes clean-up easier
** When coding by color/suit, the first few times students try it you may want to hold up the color coinciding with each comment made so they develop an understanding of differences
- Co-piloting: Create copilots where each outer circle person silently assists an inner circle person by writing a possible question/point/quote on a note card/ sticky note and passing to their assigned person in the ‘Bowl’—in most cases there may be two students assigned to each inner-circle participant
- Tapping-In: Create partnerships of 2-3 students. ‘Partner A’ begins in the inner circle—after she’s made at least 2 comments but no more than 5 comments ‘Partner B/C’ taps and takes her place: this rotation continues until the conversation is over (a variation of this is shown in the above two videos)
- Feedback Providers: Have students in the outer circle provide feedback to those in the inner circle. Two common methods:
- Give students the same tally sheet that the teacher might use and have them tally during the discussion: this often provides a great conversation starter, as many students will not have the same results and you can discuss the subjectivity and difficulty of scoring a discussion
- Have students analyze only one inner circle student. Provide the observers with a few areas to focus on and/or questions to answer, and then after the discussion is over he/she gives feedback to the speaker he/she observed (consider pairing stronger discussants with weaker discussants)
- Back-Channeling: Set outside participants up with a “back channel”—a digital conversation that runs concurrently with the face-to-face activity—that they can use to silently discuss the topic-at-hand while the inner circle discusses aloud...just be sure to set up parameters ahead of time.* (Should you wish to try this strategy, don't let the logistics be your stumbling block--reach out to one of our Instructional Technologists. )
Some common back-channels are:
* It’s often a good idea for the teacher to be one of the active participants in these discussions
You can see in this short Fishbowl Sample video that teacher Matt Baier has his students using a Back Channel .
Ideas for Providing Feedback
Inner Circle Feedback
- Teacher Checklist: Have a teacher checklist where the teacher tallies each student’s contributions by noting what type of contribution he/she is making.**
- Video Reflection: Videotape the discussion and then share it with students. Then, have each student analyze his/her own contributions to the discussion. (Students can use the same categories as on the teacher checklist and/or a simple 3-2-1 reflection.)**
- A Quick-Write: Ask students one question pertaining to each inner circle over-arching topic/problem and/or text—have them draft a short paragraph answering each question.
Outer & Inner Circle Feedback
- Personal Metacognition: Have students complete a quick questionnaire or 3-2-1 reflection after they complete their Fishbowl discussion.
Where should I start?
First, you should consider creating a profile that will help describe who you are and what you do. For a professional Twitter account, always use your real name. Do you really want people tweeting at you using a Twitter handle like '@SweetiePie15'? Using your name as part of your Twitter handle will help students, parents, staff members, and others around the world know who you are and help them find you with ease. For example, my twitter handle is '@InstTechKate'. My hope, when someone sees my Twitter handle, is that they see I like Instructional Technology and that my name is Kate. Pretty straightforward, right? What if you are a teacher and want your students to call you Mrs. or Mr. so and so. Great! Create a twitter handle that incorporates that (for example, '@MrsHanleyTech'). You can also consider adding your grade level, subject area, or even 'RPS' to your Twitter handle, such as '@InstTechRPS' or '@MrsHanleyMath'.
In your Twitter bio, add information that will give the reader insights into what you will tweet about. For example, I kept my bio short and sweet: 'Instructional tech is my jam'.
Once you have your Twitter profile up and running, start following other tweeters. Using the Explore section of Twitter (look for the magnifying glass), search for topics that relate to you. Try typing in your content area or grade level. You can use hashtags to find information too. For example, '#kindergarten', '#535edtech', or if you’re reading a book in class may search for the title of the book to see what other teachers or students are learning about '#oldyeller'.
Using Twitter for your Professional Learning Network (PLN)
One of the best things about Twitter is connecting with other educators or professionals. There are many great Twitter chats that you can follow along or participate in. Here is a link to a sheet with hundreds of Twitter chat hashtags organized by date, time, content, and hashtag. To follow along with a Twitter chat, search for the hashtag. To participate in a Twitter chat, type your response to a question or another participant; make sure to include the chat’s hashtag to your tweet. (Join local teachers for '#RPSLead' on Wednesday nights at 8:30 PM!)
You can also ask for advice by using hashtags. Have a project you’re working on but don’t know how to facilitate a fun, engaging, or innovating lesson? Crowdsource an answer. Or, better yet, attend an educational conference via hashtag to garner new ideas! For instance, '#sxswedu' just wrapped up last week – check out the hashtag to see all the great comments, ideas, and resources from the conference.
If nothing else, follow other teachers who work within RPS – we have amazing things happening in our schools all day, every day. By following other staff members, you can see what they are doing and can potentially begin taking steps toward collaborating with them. Here is a list that has a few schools' and staff members’ hashtags and handles: consider adding yours to the list!
Using Twitter in the Classroom
- At the end of the day, recap and summarize what has been learned in the classroom, encouraging reflection and discussion between students.
- Connect with other classrooms – here is a great list of teachers who actively use Twitter
- There are many Twitter accounts set up that share the lives and personalities of historical figures or events, and students can follow them for fun and learning. Try following President Abraham Lincoln or follow the journey of the fateful Titanic voyage.
- High school students who want to explore their career options can talk to professionals in the paths they’re interested in or considering.
- Students in a foreign language class can build their reading skills and stay on top of current events with a foreign language news stream.
- Local and national political figures have Twitter feeds and students in the classroom can track their progress or tweet at them asking questions.
Whether you are a novice user who is a little nervous getting started or you are an avid user who is just looking to expand your use, find others to follow who will challenge and inspire you to think differently. Once you've done that, share what you're doing in your classroom so you can challenge and inspire others.
This post brought to you by Kate Hanley, Instructional Technology Specialist. Feel free to connect with Kate via email.
Content from this post was curated by the Instructional Technology Department. Follow them on Twitter:
Kate Hanley @InstTechKate, Jennifer Hennes @jennyhennes, James McCormick @JMcCormickRPS, Chrissie McKinnon @ChrisseMcKinnon
I know I read that somewhere, but I can’t recall which source I found that in…
I can’t do this: I don’t remember how to write an essay…
Have you heard these excuses before? I know I have. In fact, I have been hearing them a lot this week. As one of John Marshall’s Speech Team coaches I am currently navigating the hardest part of our season: the part where our students begin to craft their speeches. Our speakers struggle with getting started, they struggle with tracking their research, and they struggle with how to structure their final pieces.
However, although the struggle is real, it can be simplified. Recently, the website Write Well was shared with me. This easy to use, free (with very few exceptions), and comprehensive writing website guides students in all things writing. Once students create a free account, they select the type of essay they are working on and the site will guide them in creating an outline, help them organize their research (when applicable), and assit them in crafting each draft of their writing/speech. Students are also provided with tips and general guidelines as they work on each section of their essay, speech, or creative work. Should students still be stuck or find themselves with a question, they can use the chat feature at the bottom of each composition page and a Write Well staff member will reply with advice or clarification within a few hours. With Write Well, many of the common writing pitfalls are mitigated in an instance.
View this short Write Well tutorial to see it all for yourself!
Should you have any questions about how to incorporate Write Well into your instruction, please reach out to one of our Instructional Technologists or me. We would love to help you get started.
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Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Grading For Learning
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective