30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

Choice Literacy posted this link to the National Writing Project.  There are some great ways to inspire, cajole and improve students and their writing, including ways to give them an audience and improve vocabulary.  There really is something for everyone here.

Published in: on June 20, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Comments (1)  

Zoo Guilt

I LOVE going to the zoo.  As a child in Chicago, I was a big fan of Lincoln Park Zoo.  Brookfield Zoo was probably bigger, but as I remember it, there was a lot more concrete.  Lincoln Park was parky (duh).  It had lots of trees and plants and a fantastic baby animal nursery where you could see the newborns through glass like you would in a hospital.  Baby Animals = Little Girl Nirvana, in case you didn’t know.

My husband and I visited the Houston Zoo occasionally.  Good zoo but somehow we always seemed to visit on the hottest day on the planet.  When the kids came along in Austin, we visited the San Antonio Zoo and had some truly memorable encounters with meerkats and a 3 foot tall crested bird which decided to investigate our son’s stroller.  As it stood up on the front rail of his stroller, the entire room fell silent.  The excitement of the close encounter and the fear that this bird could at any moment lean down and remove some important bit from Russell, our one-year-old, took our collective breath away.  Russell, an outgoing fellow who never met a stranger,  displayed his blossoming intellect by keeping still as a statue and dead silent.  Good boy!  All bits are still intact to this day (knock wood).
Living in rural Tennessee, we are fortunate to have a wonderful zoo an hour away in Memphis.  My favorite thing to do with my class each year is our field trip.  Many of them have never been there before.  We preview our trip by looking at photos from previous trips and checking out the “panda cam” a few weeks before.
Once we arrive the “newbies” are absolutely overcome.  At first they stand wide-eyed and open-mouthed in the Cat Country exhibit.  Then they realize that there’s lots more to see and they start to zip back and forth between exhibits (God bless parent chaperons).  It’s a challenge to keep them moving together but give them enough time to have a good look.  The memories from this trip last all year.
Of course, as much as I like the zoo, I am still overcome with guilt.  Zoos have come a long way since the cement room and metal bar days, but the animals are still captive, safe, but captive.  While it’s important for my students to see animals up close and in person, maybe someday there will be a better way.  I suddenly feel the urge to collect zoo and webcam sites.  Actually, I’d like to go to the zoo, but it’s 9:00 p.m. and the lion sleeps tonight.  Weeeeee weee oh a wee mum mum  away.

Published in: on May 31, 2009 at 2:07 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,


I know I’m not the first to notice, but the web has an amazing way of making celebrities out of everyday people.  Often they are not even aware of their status.  When I watch Dr. Wesch’ Anthropological Look at Youtube which he presented at the Library of Congress www.youtube.com/user/mwesch I can’t help but feel that he is flabberghasted by the fame of his “Text is Linear” video. His emotion is couched in a fascination with the anthropological implications of the new linkings available through the world wide web. His work is brilliant and insightful and deserves every bit of attention it gets.

bud-the-teacherThis weekend I met some other celebrities at a retreat for the National Writing Project. I was amazed when I realized the regular guy sitting at my table was actually ‘dogtrax’ a blogger I’ve been following for quite some time through Ben Davis’ collaborative blog, teacheng.us. I tried not to ogle like a pre-teen at a Jonas Brothers gig, but I suck at hiding my excitement. Luckily, moments later, “Bud the Teacher” was unmasked as the big guy with the piercings. Of course, I shouted “You’re Bud the Teacher?” eliciting a roomful of laughter, covering my already awestruck state of mind over dogtrax. Ain’t life grand?

As we finished for the weekend, I said goodbye to these lovely nerds and tried to express how much I enjoy reading their work. Bud the Teacher actually denied his guruishness self! He doesn’t seem to think he does anything special and perhaps Dogtrax thinks the same way! These guys are my kind of celebrities. They have NO CLUE what an impact they have made in the world. You’ve got your celebs who’ve been around a while like Kevin Rose whose career blossomed on TV. Now, the TV appearances are completely superfluous to building celebrity. Word of mouth has been replaced by word of web so these everyday people, doing what they do because they enjoy it, achieve a sort of notoriety which is perhaps better than the traditional celebrity. There is probably a greater degree of privacy afforded the new celebs. There is more choice. Keep your life quiet uncluttered and nerdy, or create a video for youtube and let your wild self get famous!

And here’s an addendum:  I spoke to a colleague about meeting these fellows and by lunchtime she reported that she had actually seen a reference to Bud the Teacher on Choice Literacy today.  She had never ever heard of him before.  Let’s talk.  Should we change the Kevin Bacon Effect to the Bud the Teacher connection?

Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 1:38 am  Comments (2)  

National Writing Project Web Presence Retreat

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Denver with a group of fantastic people from the National Writing Project and projects around the country. I’ve come back inspired and rejuvenated.  Through a variety of exercises and discussions as well as a lot of reflection, we have the beginning of a plan to upgrade, update and move our website uptown.  I am so grateful to these wonderful folks for their fabulous brains and their terrific dedication.

Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  

National Writing Project Annual Meeting- San Antonio, TX

West Tenneessee Writing Project at NWP Annual MeetingThe National Writing Project annual meeting was overwhelming and inspiring.  I went to workshops regarding advocacy and technology during the two days in San Antonio.  It made me see that what we’re doing at the West Tennessee Writing Project is right on track but that we can do so much more to enhance and promote our project.  On my new to do list:  give some serious depth to our currently shallow website, have a PR101 session for new Teacher Consultants at Summer Institute, provide some tech programs for my school to prepare for some Tech Tuesday presenations at SI, consider getting a tech grant for digital storytelling, apply for Tech Retreat in Denver or create my own retreat, prepare a presentation on digital storytelling, check out all of the fantastic websites created by other Writing Project Sites.  That should keep me busy at least through Christmas break.

Power Upgrade – Quick Assessments

Just saw these new ideas for PT and need a place to keep them handy so I can try them out.  I’ll let you know how they go.  I need some new ideas and recharging.  My gentlemen are making me a wee bit CRAZY!

Power Teaching Super Fast Assessments
We are trying two new assessment methods here in Southern California and would like other Power Teachers to give them a whirl.

Yes/No Way: When your lesson is completed, ask a series of simple assessment questions that the class answers either Yes (pumping their fist energetically) or No Way (putting their hands to their foreheads, and then shooting their hands in the air, as if saying, “that’s ridiculous!”). For example, you’ve finished an intro lesson on fractions, your Yes/No Way questions might be:
— Is the top number the numerator?
— Is the bottom number the denominator?
— Is 3/4 of a pizza less than 1/2 a pizza?
By asking these simple questions, you can rapidly see, without a pencil and paper test, if your class understood your main points.

Quick Test: Quick Test is abbreviated QT and pronounced Cutie. You say Cutie and your students say Cutie and put one hand over their eyes. Then, you say some sentences about your lesson. If the sentence is true, then students silently raise their hands; if the sentence is false, then students keep their hands down. Sample questions:
— The top number of a fraction is the denominator.
— 1/2 a pizza added to 1/2 a pizza is a whole pizza.

The beauty of Cutie is that students, because their eyes are covered, are giving answers in private. You can quickly see how many of your students understood your lesson.

The beauty of both these games is that they can take less than a minute, give you quick feedback, and don’t have to be graded.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Power Progress!

I’ve been doing more and more Teach/Okay lately and the effects are miraculous (as expected).  The technique proves to be highly effective for retention of vocabulary.  By pairing the word and definition with gestures, my students recall words weeks after the test has come and gone.  This is NOT the norm.  When we run into a former vocabulary word in another context, if students don’t instantly remember the word, I can prompt them with  a simple gesture and they often prompt each other.  I’m anticipating that the unit vocabulary test will prove to be mastered successfully by the entire class!  We shall see.

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 1:37 am  Comments (1)  

Power Teaching Classroom Inquiry

The First Nine Weeks of School

While I have made no posts in eight weeks, I have been Power Teaching.  I can’t say that I have been perfectly consistent and on track, but I can say this is the best behaved class I have ever had.  I don’t think that has to do with the mix of kids completely.  It has to do with Power Teaching.  Replacing “pulling strips” or checkmarks with rehearsals has been liberating.  I never liked constantly pointing out student failures in following the rules.  Now I emphasize what the rules are and the students can take it from there.  They enjoy reciting the rules with gestures and often point out opportunities to follow them:  “Ms. Brandon, picking up paper towels in the bathroom is showing respect to our school.”  “Ms. Brandon, picking up someone else’s pencils or papers shows respect to others.”  Rule Four, “Respect others.  Respect yourself. Respect your school.” is the hardest one for them to recite, but it’s their favorite one to exemplify.

I have been neglectful of micro lessons, but I’ll be focusing more on them in the coming weeks.  Their value, especially the gestures, become evident every time I try one.  I taught the terms Realistic Fiction and Fantasy with gestures of a rock (fist) pounding into their hand and wiggley finger fairy wings up by their heads.  They still have some trouble coming up with the words “realistic fiction”, but they can label a story with the rock gesture without fail.  “Fantasy” is no problem at all.  This is a big change from classes in the past.  I’ve often had difficulty getting them to understand which is which.  With the gestures, the distinction is crystal clear.

I have also used micro lessons to emphasize reading strategies.  This has been extremely useful during silent reading times and testing.  I can silently give the gesture for “good readers re-read when they don’t understand” and the students are better able to answer their own questions.

My biggest problem right now is coming up with the gestures!  I’m tempted to see if I can get the students to come up with some of them, once we are better accustomed to the whole idea.  They can often come up with something that they can relate to better than I can.  Then again, there is always a lot of silliness to weed through first.  In a perfect world (which I intend to create in the next few years) I’d like to find ways that relate particular gestures to each other.  For example, all book genre gestures would have something in common.  I’m trying to make sure that all of the “good reader” strategies begin  with “A good reader. . .” so that they can run through them automatically and incorporate them into their habitual reading behavior.

I’ll be interested in seeing how “teach-okay” develops.  Right now, my second graders need to have a very specific micro-lesson to teach and they essentially recite it in chorus when they “teach”.  I usually need to get them going by talking over them at first.  Some students are VERY slow to do their part.  We’ll have recited 3 times before they join in.  I believe that is a GOOD thing.  They need the extra time to listen a few times before they feel confident enough to chime in.

So, there’s plenty to do, but we’ve accomplished a lot too.  I’m very pleased with our progress and look forward to seeing improvements in the future.

The First Week of School

Day Four: Our efforts continue to pay off. Rule 2 has been fabulous. Instead of nagging students to hurry up, my reminders to “Follow directions quickly” have been well received and followed. I’ve observed students doing silent versions of rules to each other when someone is misbehaving. They use the gestures and communicate non-verbally, causing less interruption.

Just to record them, here are our rules:

Rule 1: Wait for permission to speak.

Rule 2: Follow directions quickly.

Rule 3: Listen when the teacher is talking.

Rule 4: Respect others, respect yourself, respect your school.

Rule 5: Be safe. Be honest.

Some of the students are getting more comfortable with their surroundings, not in a good a way. I can begin to see some acting out and the rules are going to get a lot of rehearsals. I may bring the scoreboard into play tomorrow, a day earlier than I had planned.

The First Week of School

Day Three: I did a lot of think overnight and refined the rules and gestures that I wanted in place. After completing our Math lesson, I decided to go ahead and teach the rest of the rules. Once again, the videos really paved the way. They were eager and ready and learn and respond. We practiced together and then students were allowed to show what they know by demonstrating one rule or more. As each one stood up and demonstrated, other hands shot up to do the same. The whole process seemed to snowball and they all had the rules down in no time. The icing on the cake was when Mr. Jones, the principal, came in as we were doing some of our final practice. He seemed very impressed and I was delighted that we were so much further along than I expected. We had discussed the significance of each rule and throughout the day, students would point out examples of showing respect to others and respect to our school as well as being safe and honest. I have foregone the scoreboard for the time being in order to focus on understanding the rules. They are aware of the scoreboard concept but we’ll emphasize it more next week.

The First Week of School

Day Two: We did a lot of rehearsing today. Rule 1 was our main focus first thing. I showed the Power Teaching video from kindergarten and the students were interested. When I had them view the college video, I really got their attention. I stopped it at intervals to discuss each concept. As we went through it, I could sense that we were getting excited, so we just went ahead and took the plunge. I introduced the scoreboard, the mighty oh yeah and the mighty groan and they were extremely enthusiastic. I went ahead and taught them rule two – Follow directions quickly. They loved the speed at which I required their response. Rules 1 and 2 were now well in hand. Since they had seen the video, they understood the class/yes and had no difficulty in responding correctly. We made a lot of progress.

The First Week of School

Day One: The first day of school is always a mixture of frazzled nerves, paperwork flurries, and sleepy, weepy children. While second graders do have an advantage over the kindergartners as far as familiarity with the building and routine, they are still children in new surroundings. They start out a little shy, a little quiet and a lot tired after their glorious summer. I began power teaching halfway through the day with only one rule: Wait for permission to speak. They were a little timid at first with making the gestures, but caught on quickly. The rule was repeated frequently throughout the day and I had decided to do one rule each day through the week. At the very end of the day, we tried a little bit of “class/yes” which was less than inspiring. Take it slowly. It’s a busy week.

Parent Orientation: We had an hour of parent orientation the day after registration. The turnout was low but I showed the Power Teaching videos to familiarize the parents with the program. They seemed receptive and I enjoyed sharing how well it had gone last year. I especially enjoyed sharing the micro lesson concept. I hope that I’ll have video of their students to show at parent teach conferences

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 2:55 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Close Encounters of the Teacher Kind

As I was driving to school after a bookshelf purchase from Wal-Mart, I received an out of the ordinary phone call.  Pat, from Enid, Oklahoma called.  She wanted to know where I bought colorful plastic shark teeth.  Pat, from Enid, OK is a total stranger and it took me a while to figure out why she wanted to know about colorful plastic shark teeth.

It finally dawned on me that she had seen something I submitted to Mailbox Magazine years ago.  It was a shark classroom decoration that I called Loose Tooth Louie.  Louie had a pocket on the back where I put cardboard “shark teeth” that I made myself.  When a student loses a tooth, they get to pull a tooth out of Louie’s mouth, string it on a piece of yarn and wear it home.  Somehow Mailbox had upgraded my cardboard shark teeth to colorful plastic ones and here was this woman who had googled me and gotten my phone number instead of my e-mail.

I explained the error that Mailbox had made and recalled how the whole happened those many years ago.  She seemed disappointed that I had no genuine colorful plastic shark teeth but thanked me for the information.  Perhaps I could retire and sell things like genuine colorful plastic shark teeth and such.  With the internet the way it is, with a little bit of effort, I might be able to sell out in a matter minutes with only the slightest effort to promote my wares.  Amazing!  I think our degrees of separation seem to be reducing more and more everyday.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 9:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Miss T.Q.

I’ve just returned from the post office after a delightful chance encounter.  As I came in, I noticed a couple of girls waiting in line with a woman who could be their mother.  One of them appeared to be near the 7-8-9 year old range.  While she hadn’t been one of my students, it was probable that she would recognize me from school and greet me with one of three hellos:

Hello, Ms. Brandon

Hello, Ms. Wrongname

or the always popular – Hey, you go to my school! (I get this more often from boys.  Does that mean the boys see ownership as a part of attendance more than girls?  Hmmm.)

Imagine my surprise when the fabulously brilliant child smiled at me and said:

Hello MIss Technology Queen!

I had to ask her to repeat it.  I really had no idea what she said at first.  Then I had to ask her if I had taught her that (not that I remember doing it, just sounds like something I might do).  She responded that indeed I had.

I truthfully told her that she’s the smartest child I’ve ever met and that with a memory like that, as well as amazing incite, she would go far.

I’m so glad I teach.  I’m also glad that I blog about teaching so that I have this episode to make me smile on the days when I’m not so glad I teach.

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 9:18 pm  Comments (2)