Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Power of Prewriting - Focusing on Primary (Part 3)

 "A writer's notebook gives students a place to write everyday....to practice living like a writer."
                                                                                                              -Aimee Buckner

Students find it very valuable when they see teachers writing and using the strategies that are being taught to them. I encourage all teachers to have their own notebooks. The teacher's entries can act as a wonderful model for guided and shared writing experiences. Also it helps to build writing stamina - students are less likely to interrupt "writing time" to ask for help if they see their teacher working diligently at her/his own writing. I am often blown away by the incredible story telling talents of the teachers that I have had the pleasure of working with. It is amazing how well students listen when their teachers have turned into authors - talk about connection, authentic modelling and student engagement! That being said it is also valuable for students to see their teacher struggle with ideas and then problem solve.

I love the "Gradual Release of Responsibility" model and believe that students need to know what teachers expect from them in order to meet expectations. Therefore for every new prewriting strategy introduced I would recommend the "I Do - We Do - You Do Model".

"I Do" - The Modeled Lesson - During this lesson the teacher "models" what is expected from the students. The teacher should be talking aloud while he/she explains the purpose of the activity and shares his/her thoughts. At this time the teacher is in charge of the pen or marker. After the lesson the teacher should invite students to verbally rephrase the focus of the session and then display the modelled example to provide a clear reference point for student work. I typically encourage teachers to use this strategy for Collecting Idea Strategies (for example All About Me, Heart Map... see below).

Example of a teacher modeled lesson using words.   

Example of a teacher modeled chart using pictures.     

We Do" - The Shared Lesson - As teachers refer to their Collecting Ideas example - both teacher and students participate in the creation of a notebook entry. Students are encouraged to contribute, develop and organize ideas. Teachers can scribe (see example below)  or when appropriate "share the pen" (interactive writing).


Example of a teacher scribed text both teacher and students contributed ideas.

"You Do" - Independent Lesson - Students independently apply previously learned processes and strategies to compose their own entries. During this time the whole class and teacher is engaged in the writing task for a sustained period of time (building writing stamina).

 Students then choose ideas to write about from their collections for free writes. Teachers can ask students to refer to specific collection or list if they are working on specific forms of writing. For example "Places I Have Been" could support narrative (memoirs) or descriptive writing.

It is very important that student's personalize their notebook!

            Student example of collecting ideas - All About Me


Student example of collecting ideas - Places I have Been      

        Student example of collecting ideas - My Small Moments

An example of a student's entries. Students were allowed to choose two same stickers - one sticker was placed beside their idea. The second sticker indicated where the entry was started - young students liked this more than dating their entry!
Here is an example of how a grade one student used one of his Small Moments during Writer's Workshop. First he reread his entry then expanded his idea using the graphic organizer. He decided to create his details using pictures. The class had been working towards writing stories that had a beginning, middle and ending. The graphic organizer supported the lessons that were taught.

Example of Small Moments graphic organizer.

  Using his details he then wrote his story. Then with a partner he edited and revise his work using the following as a guide.

Example of a student "Checklist"

He decided to "publish" his story as a picture book for the classroom library so he and his teacher met then edited his work.

Example of a grade one narrative (memoir) writing.

Please feel free to download the following attachments. They have been scanned to print on 11 X 14 paper two sided to two side to look like a notebook. Let me know your thoughts, recommendations and successes.

To download an example of a "Small Moments" organizer click  here .

To download the "Fairy Tale" notebook strategies click  here .

To download a primary student Writer's Notebook click here 

To download the teacher's copy for the student Writer's Notebook click here 

To download a rubric for Writer's Notebook click here 

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Power of Prewriting - Focusing On Primary (Part 2)

         I think I will start this entry by addressing the first question that I had in my last post. .....

How do writer notebook strategies support/compliment the key writing resource in Regina Public Schools - First Steps?

I have been using First Steps Resources since the middle of the 1990's when they were first introduced to Regina Public Schools. I don't know if it was my special education background or not but the idea of thinking about learning on a developmental continuum made a lot of sense to me. At the time First Steps was revolutionary in their approach to supporting teachers - here we had a resource that was not "a program". Based on my teaching experiences it may have been one of the first professional resources that teachers (at the time) were expected to read and implement without a student workbook and teacher's manual. It appeared to me that many of my colleagues really struggled with the idea of how to implement this resource into their existing writing program and did not seem to understand how "plotting" students on a developmental continuum could benefit them or their students. I feel that our profession was not ready to embrace this pedagogical shift. I well remember many conversations around "How are teachers expected to transfer information on the continuum into marks?" and "If I can't put a' mark' on it what is the point of plotting student's learning"?  Remember we had only started talking about "assessment for learning".

Since that time I have been working closely with teachers first as a First Steps Writing Tutor and then in my present role as an instructional consultant. If I have grown in any area over the last fifteen years of my career I would have to say it is in the area of writing. Prior to that time I was not a very effective "writing" teacher. What I have come to learn is the importance of understanding that writing is both a process and a personal journey that never ends. The process of writing (Writer's Workshop) is way more important than the end result - but trust me if we focus on the process we will have wonderful results.

In the second edition of First Steps students are expected (during the course of their education) to be taught how to write (communicate) for the following purposes; Entertain, Recount, Socialize, Inquire, Describe, Persuade, Explain, and Instruct. The more that I have observed students work through the writing process the more I have come to understand the importance of the prewriting. To me this is the power of a writer's notebook. By introducing open-ended strategies students can collect ideas, thoughts, experiences and observations that are meaningful to them therefore alleviating the need for teacher prompts. Many of these strategies have been around for a long time but I agree with Aimee Buckner we need to acknowledge the work of Natalie Goldberg, Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher, and Anne Lamott and  my personal favorites Lucy Calkins and Mary Chiarella in creating dialogue around the importance of prewriting as part of the writing process.

Although I love the idea of a real notebook for all students I had a lot of questions/concerns coming from teachers from grades one to three who felt that they needed something with a little bit more structure (yes this goes against the philosophy of a notebook) to get started. So I put together a Writer's Notebook for young learners with the hope that once teachers are comfortable with the strategies they will then select the notebook strategies that best support their writing programs.

As I explored various notebook strategies while working with the First Steps Writing resource I made the following connections. I see the following prewriting strategies support First Steps Writing purposes (forms) in the following way:

Writing to Describe/ Writing to Recount - Writing about My Favorite Things, Writing About Things I Love, Writing About Things I Like to Do, Writing About Places I Have Been

Writing to Describe/ Writing to Entertain (Memoirs/ Narratives) - Writing From A Picture , Writing from a Small Moment

Writing to Persuade - Writing About My Opinions

Writing to Inquire - Writings About My Wonderings

Writing to Socialize - I Would Like to Write to....

Writing to Explain/Writing to Instruct - I can Tell You How to....

I have seen a lot of success using these strategies and want to thank Amy Rempal  (grade 1 teacher at Henry Braun School) and Wendy Pletz (grade three teacher at Jack Mackenzie School) for working with me in trying out these notebooks.

I will continue this conversation during my next post and attach files of the notebook strategies and examples of student work.

The Power of Prewriting (Part 1)

For many years as I worked through the "Writer's Workshop" process I often found many students who were continually suck in the "I don't know what to write about!" phase.  My first response to this question was to provide the student or students with a list of story starters or prompts - much to my dismay I still often heard the cry again "I don't know what to write about!" After reading "Notebook Know How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook" by Aimee Buckner and after much reflection about how I see myself as a writer I came to the conclusion (ha-ha moment) that writing is a personal experience that can not be ignited by story starters or prompts - indeed good writing comes from our experiences, our interests and from our heart. Writers naturally write with "good voice" when they are writing about topics or experiences that they are passionate about.

I found an answer to the cry "I don't know what to write about" in the idea of a student's "Writer's Notebook". This is not a new idea -  writers have used notebooks to collect ideas, thoughts, drawings... since- well - I guess the invention of the notebook. Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher have written extensively about notebooks as a tool for prewriting. I have certainly come to understand their conviction to the use of this tool. I truly believe that...

 "A writer's notebook is an essential springboard for the pieces that will later be crafted in writer's workshop" (Stenhouse Publishers).

In Regina Public schools I have worked with teachers from grades 1 to 8 in the exploration and implementation of this tool. As with any implementation of  an unfamiliar tool and/or strategy I soon discovered that some critical questions arose as to how to best utilize this tool in the Regina/ Saskatchewan context. Some questions that surfaced were...

  1. How does the notebook support/compliment our First Steps Writing Resource?
  2. How does this tool fit with the Saskatchewan Curricular outcomes?
  3. How does a school organize and implement the strategies outlined by Aimee Buckner - can the same strategies be introduced repeatedly?
  4. What are the best kinds of notebooks to use? Where can I find them? Who pays for them?
As I continue to blog about this topic I will address some of these questions. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

I'm Back...

Yes a whole year has passed since I've attended to my blog (Bad Blogger). I have to admit I was struggling a bit with the whole idea of "blogging". It really had nothing to do with the "blog" itself - it was more about finding topics that I felt teachers wanted to read about and discuss. Then after checking out many blogs it occurred to me that many "bloggers" struggling with finding an audience. So I have decided to persevere but I am going to change the focus of my blog. After a lot of discussion about RTI and PBIS I am going to turn my attention to literacy. In my upcoming posts I am going to share my experiences and "ha-ha" moments in regards to supporting reading and writing in the classroom. Yes there are many blogs that address this area but I feel that I have a rather unique perspective working as a classroom consultant with (as I have previously mentioned) many years of experience. Hopefully I will be able to provide you with some new insights and/or things to think about so check back in a few weeks to see what has been posted... until then take care - summer break is nearly here!

Friday, 31 May 2013

PBIS Conference in San Diego - Final Thoughts and Reflections

I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the PBIS Conference - and it did not hurt that the conference took place in San Diego. It was a little different compared to other conferences that I have attended in that it was highly academic and research driven. Researchers, academia, and teachers attended from all parts of the world. It was very interesting to hear how different school systems are run in different parts of the world and meet so many interesting people.

I will conclude my conversation about the conference with these thoughts and reflections....

  • behavioral issues are very expensive - not only in monetary terms (cost of support personnel, specialized programs) but in time lost to academic instruction
  • there is an abundant amount of research and resources regarding behavior  - so I wonder why is behavior still such an issue in so many of our schools?
  • teachers need to learn how to influence how students behave - we need to get away from the mentality that we need to control students
  • behavior is a system problem - not a teacher problem -therefore how do school systems promote the use of proactive/preventive strategies/interventions?
  • does our present support system truly empower or dis-empower teachers?
  • do we really know how to "set-up" students for success? - why do some educators appear to be so resistant to do this? - success begets success/ failure begets failure
  • behavioral change is an instructional process - certainly not all behavior is the fault of adults but it is the adults' responsibility to teach what is expected -  in the words of Terrance Scott "If you want it teach it"
  • and finally... there are no "quick fixes" when it comes to changing behavior - any intervention  has to become part of a school's culture and belief system in order to be effective

PBIS Conference San Diego - Supporting Positive Behavior

In previous blogs I have highlighted "On Target" charts to help monitor student behavior. The school that has implemented this intervention has seen an increase in students staying on "Green". This intervention does appear to support students at tier I and tier II. However as the saying goes for everything positive there is something negative. It is important that educators are aware of the "unintended consequences" or weakness of any intervention especially in regards to behavior. It is crucial that the interventions being implemented are producing the intended results. The purpose of the "On Target" charts is to help students monitor their behavior and to provide teachers with a framework to check that all students are being treated fairly. There is a danger however that the charts can be used as a "threat" and that students may feel "singled" out.  When I was at the conference I was introduced to another intervention that reminded me of the intent of the "On Target" charts. This intervention was developed by Diana Browning Wright and was presented at the conference by Kari Oyen and Pat Huber who are behavioral coaches from South Dakota.

The "Rainbow Club"
Each student in the class starts a time period (typically one week) with the first color of a six to eight color rainbow. This can be graphically presented in a wall chart or on a strip of paper posted on each student’s desk. As the week progresses, students earn additional colors. Teachers can hold up colors of the rainbow as they walk around the room as “cues” for rule following and task completion behaviors. During brief free time activities either at the end of the day or interspersed throughout the day, students may engage in activities for which they have earned eligibility. Having a special payoff at the end of the week can also be useful. Students themselves can suggest the highest status activities for each step in the rainbow and can participate in classroom meetings to establish where new activities fit in the hierarchy. Be ready to alter the system if it is found that the most highly desirable activities are listed below level 3.


Free Time Eligibility

1. Red free reading, notebook organizing, drawing at your seat, head start on homework
2. Orange all of Red, PLUS: board games, flashcard reviews in pairs, work on art project
3. Yellow all of Red and Orange, PLUS: checkers, mosaic work, feed animals, make a bulletin board design proposal
4. Green all of Red, Orange, Yellow,PLUS: chess, computer games
5. Blue all of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, PLUS: office aide time, run errands for teacher,
permission to eat food
6. Violet all of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, PLUS: small group CD listening with headsets,
dyad basketball (indoor trash can hoops), small group talking lying on the floor
Special Friday: Blue or Violet may use materials or watch a movie in the back of the classroom

Establish the Operating Rules

Tell the students:“If you ask for a card, or ask me to look at your behavior,(i.e., nagging) you can not earn a color. Think about what good students do.”The behaviors you are looking for should be prominently displayed in icons or words, or even on the students’ desks on small reminder cards. Use statements such as, I will be watching with different behaviors in mind for each of you because each of us has different behaviors we need to work on.

To view a manual filled with intervention strategies that support positive behavior click here

Thursday, 30 May 2013

PBIS Conference in San Diego - Check-In/Check-Out

By far the most talked about and promoted strategy at the conference was Check-in/Check-out. I attended a four hour pre-conference workshop that addressed the implementation of this strategy. The workshop was facilitated by Cynthia Anderson from the University of Oregon. CICO is a Tier II support that is intended for students whose behavior has not responded to Tier1 interventions. Tier II interventions need to provide students with opportunities for explicit instruction, opportunities to practice identified behaviors, and feedback. CICO is an evidence-based intervention however implementation according to Anderson is unlikely to be effective or sustainable if CICO is not implemented within a system to support implementation. Progress monitoring must occur to ensure the intervention is working for the student and for the school. Before implementing CICO behavioral outcomes (targets) must be clearly defined and understood by the student (for example improving attendance, blurting out in class, keeping hands and feet to oneself).

Key features necessary for successful implementation include the creation of a school based team that addresses behavioral as well as academic needs, develop roles for team members involved in coordinating CICO, and ensuring that all staff are familiar with CICO and agree to implement the intervention. When a student begins CICO the student should be introduced to the intervention and the student's teacher should understand their role in implementation. The intervention also should be discussed with the student's parents/ guardians to be insured they understand the rationale for CICO and what is involved (Anderson).

To see how one school implements CICO click here 

For more information regarding Tier11 interventions and CICO click here and check out Section Resources

A framework for CICO should have the following elements...