Creating a Reading Unit Toolkit

My last post (which you can view here) detailed how I first familiarized myself with the Teachers College A Deep Study of Character middle school reading unit by Lucy Calkins and colleagues.  After creating my demonstration notebook, my mind began to drift toward a tool that teachers could use while conducting small groups and conferences.  Since all of the teaching session are so clearly laid out for teachers, I knew they needed minimal scaffolding and would easily be brought to life in the classroom.  Our district focus this year has been small groups and conferring, so  I wanted something that teachers could keep at their fingertips to make the teaching of the unit more clear during this segment of their workshop.

And so my A Deep Study of Character Toolkit was born!

toolkit feature image

I decided to do a separate kit for each bend.  This way the final product would not get too cumbersome.  Remember, I want to be able to walk around with this easily, while students are independently reading.  At the front of the kit I put a copy of the Bend I anchor chart, To Think Deeply About Characters…, as well as the anchor text, “Popularity” by Adam Bagdasarian.

Toolkit Anchor Text

For each session, I included the same three things:

  1. The anchor chart component
    • Provided with the unit.
  2. A strategy chart
    • These are charts that I’ve created based on the work of individual sessions.  Usually, they break the work taught in each minilesson into easy-to-follow steps.
  3. Any materials needed to teach the recommended small groups and/or conferences.

Here are images of the anchor component and strategy chart for session one and the small group and conferring materials for session two.

 

So, now that you have an understanding of what the toolkit entails, here is my process for making it…

Pulling Resources

Toolkit minichart

For some of your materials, you can access the unit’s online resources available through the Heinemann website.  These resources are included with the purchase of your unit book.  This is where I pulled the anchor chart, anchor text, and various other teaching charts included for each session (including mini-versions to hand out to students after a small group or conference- see image at right).

 

Creating Materials

Although some resources are provided in the online resources, I did make quite a few myself.  While the Units of Study are GREAT at providing the necessary resources to teach each individual session (or minilesson), the material for the suggested small group and conferring work is usually not included.  So, this is where I had to do a lot of creating.  Please note, that all of the content for my self-created materials was inspired or born directly from the A Deep Study of Character unit book.

Strategy Charts

To create the individual session strategy charts, I skim the lesson for a “how-to”.  Usually, at some point, it is suggested that you name out the steps you took during your demonstration.  This is your money-shot for finding components of a strategy chart!  Look for words like debrief, summarize, recap and review. Then read the scripted text that follows, and pull out the steps.  Last, let your inner Kate and Maggie Roberts (authors of DIY Literacy and former TC developers) go and get crafty!  This is my favorite part!

As an example, this (from Session 2)…

toolkit-chart-inspo-e1529415662103.jpg

…became this…

toolkit strategy chart

So fun!

Small Group and Conferring Materials

I use a similar process when creating the necessary resources for the suggested small group and conferring work.  I carefully read and think through each Conferring and Small-Group section of the session.  Often, the unit will name out specific small groups you could plan, like this example from Session 6:

 

I use the information in each section to develop and write a small group lesson plan; creating or pulling strategy charts, exemplars and resources as needed.

 

Sometimes, the unit suggests that you do some lean-in comments to support repertoire work.  Think of this as a way to guide students toward the work you are teaching as well as toward more sophisticated thinking.  Often the unit will provide some examples and Session One of the online resources has a print-out as well.  However, to make this resource teacher-friendly I put the suggested comments into an If/Then chart.

For session five I create the following,

toolkit comments if then

This chart includes all of the work done thus far in the unit from session one to four.  With a chart like this, teachers can use the visuals to easily see what type of student work to be on the lookout for, and what to say when they see it.

Logistics

All of the pages are housed in sheet protectors.  Single pages are organized back-to-back.  However, to keep organized I only put one small group lesson including materials in each plastic protector.  So when it is time to teach that lesson, you can easily pull out all the materials and go.

 

To make pages reusable year after year, I stuck Post-its to the outside of the sheet protectors.  This way teachers can jot observations down without having to reprint the page each year.  For example,

Toolkit Sheet Saver Postits

The blue tabs indicate each session of the bend.  I labeled each by number, but then also put one word to remind myself what the content of that session is. (I didn’t have the words at first, and although I’m getting pretty good at naming the content off-hand, I would sometimes be a session off.  With the goal of making this as simple and teacher-friendly as possible–why work harder than necessary?!)

Putting this together was really a rewarding task.  Like doing the demonstration notebook, this work helped to crystallize the concepts taught in the unit.  Time-consuming, yes.  But, well worth it- a labor of love!

What do you think?  Is this something you would find useful in your classroom?  What does your toolkit look like?

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

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Learning the Work Through a Demonstration Notebook

It’s no secret that my school district uses the Teachers College Reading and Writing Units of Study, so when the middle school reading units came out I was beyond stoked.  Navigating reading workshop at the middle school level has been difficult.  There are SO MANY resources out there (on the web, Pinterest, Twitter) for lower grades.  It was easy for me to conceptualize how to make the thinking work of lower elementary readers apparent to students, but I struggled with the higher-level analysis required of a middle schooler.  How exactly do we show readers how to synthesize information across a text or how to move beyond simply teaching identification of narrative elements and instead, showing how they interact and influence each other.

As the required thinking work gets harder, making what happens in my mind so naturally as a reader, is harder to break down into a step-by-step strategic manner.  BUT the new Middle School Reading  Units of Study put out by Lucy Calkins and colleagues (including the fabulous Emily Strang-Campbell) do just that!  They break down really complex thinking into simple easy to follow minilessons.  The work is not for the faint of heart… Students and teachers are asked to do a level of work that many may not be accustomed to, but the payoff is well worth it!

A Deep Study of Character

 

Needless to say, I am VERY excited!  So, when the Deep Study of Character unit got delivered to my door, I was so ready to dive right in and start figuring the unit out.

 

I began by scanning the lessons for two things:

  1. What am I teaching?
  2. What are the students doing?

In This Session

I used to do this work by first reading the Teaching Point (to see what I am doing) and then reading the Link (to see what students are to do).  HOWEVER, unlike any of the other grade-level units, the middle school units have a spectacular “In This Session” feature, that clearly states that information at the start of the session.  So smart!

To wrap my head around the work of Bend I, I first created a Demo Reading Notebook using the anchor text “Popularity” by Adam Bagdasarian.  This was really helpful.  By pushing myself to do the work expected of students, the teaching of each session became more clear.

Deep Study Notebook Cover

Here are some more pages from my notebook. 🙂

 

There is a page of thinking work for each session of Bend I as well as a homework page.

notebook-spread.jpg

Usually suggested homework is to read (obviously) and do some thinking work.  Students may either return to work started in class or begin something new.  Just for demonstration purposes (for the teachers I work with and for students), I created a new entry type for each day of homework.  I chose a variety of different styles so that an assortment of entries were exemplified.

A couple of new ideas I’ve had about notebooks after this process:

  • When assessing them (because unfortunately yes, we are a slave to grades at times), I would expect to see some evidence of the work taught each minilesson.  It may not be great or mastered, but students should be making an attempt to approximate the thinking work taught.  So, in terms of the Deep Study of Character unit, in Bend I I would expect to see evidence of students naming character traits, tracking traits and revising their initial ideas about characters, identifying likeable and unlikeable sides in characters, weighing and ranking traits based on their dominance or tendency to affect the plot, and analyzing the pressures characters experience.  In addition, I might see students doing one or two pages of “other” work.  Something they thought of on their own or were shown during a small group or conference.
  • REMEMBER notebook pages are often Thinking, Return-to Pages.  A fully completed notebook exemplar is NOT created in one sitting.  It may be developed over the course of a couple days as students progress through their book.  It is constantly being added two as student learn more about their character, revise their ideas, include new evidence, etc.  Imagine an Emotional Timeline- students would begin it at the start of a book with some initial ideas about the character’s state of mind and add to it as they proceed through the events of the novel.
  • With this idea in mind, the logistics of when notebook pages are created was clarified.  I always understood that they had to be done, but the question was WHEN?  If students are expected to spend the majority of their time reading, when do these marvelous notebook entries happen?  However, once I realized that notebook entries are returned to, it became more apparent.  Students should be spending a couple of minutes each day (and night for homework) adding to their notebook entries.

How have you acclimated yourself to this new unit??  Please share!!!!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- Adding Compelling Evidence

This is the last post of this blog series!  Phew! It’s been a ride- 8 posts!  Each detailing a different strategy for helping students who struggle with adding evidence to their argument writing.  Let’s recap what’s been covered so far:

If students quote chunks of text that are too large…

…then use this strategy, Allowing Your Writing to Shine.

If students struggle to cut block quotes because they feel all the information is important…

…then see these two posts on Trimming Down Important Block Quotes by Paraphrasing or Using Ellipses.

If students string together multiple quotes…

…then use one of the String of Quotes strategies that show how to Create Variety or Evaluate Evidence.

If students do not transition in or out of quotes…

…then see the post titled Writers Set Up and Unpack Quotes.

 

Today’s strategy is the foundation of all the above work.  The final strategy I will share is for students who are able to cite a quote, but their evidence is neither pertinent or compelling.  Choosing the best evidence to support a claim is imperative in the art of argument, so we must teach students how to select the evidence that best matches their purpose.

When a student uses uncompelling evidence, look at the source materials to discern the student’s logic.  More often than not, s/he chose the first reasonable quote found in the source.  The student did not postpone the decision of which quote to include until the source material was read.  It is important that we teach students to not jump too quickly at the first quote they see.  Instead, they should be patient- reading the source material further on the lookout for the BEST quote they can find.

To teach this strategy, I first show students how to read their work with a focus on quotes.  As students come to a quote within their piece, I have them reread the quote alongside their reason and ask themselves,

“Does this quote fit my reason?  Is there a stronger quote that could support this?”

The answers to these questions help students see whether their quote is sound or if they should look for a better fit.

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I model with my own writing how to use sticky flags as placeholders for where a stronger quote could go once further research is done.

Teaching Tool 1- Adding Compelling Evidence

Next, I return to the article to read further, mining for stronger quotes that support my claim.  I model how to mark, by underlining (or you could use a highlighter), potential quotes as I continue reading down the page.  I reinforce to students that sometimes the best quotes are buried deep within the article and that they should not be too quick when choosing a quote.

Teaching Tool 2- Adding Compelling Evidence

Once I’ve reread the article and found some other possible quotes, I show students how to choose the best piece of evidence by referring back to this class chart:

Teaching Chart- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

Follow up your teacher demonstration with time for students to do the work.  Have them reread their piece with a critical eye toward included quotes.  If any are weak, they should return to the source material to find a more pertinent quotation to include in their piece.  As always, encourage students as they return to independence to keep this strategy in mind.  🙂

I hope that you found this series practical and helpful for your everyday classroom use.  Looking forward I would like to share based on what YOU need.  So, my next post will be based on the results of the poll below.  What are you working on now?  Let me know what you would like my next post to be about!

 

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- Transitioning In and Out of Quotes (Unpack)

Picking up right where I left off from my previous post… We can help students who plop quotes into their writing with no introduction or explanation by teaching them how to both set-up and unpack the quote.  I’ve already shared a strategy for how to transition into quotes.  You can see how to transition into or set-up quotes in my previous post (here).  This post will share how to do the second part, transitioning out of or unpacking quotes.  So, let’s get right to it!

After students set-up their quotes, it is imperative that they unpack it.  When a student unpacks a quotes, s/he explains its significance, connecting the quote to their claim by explaining their thinking.  Super hard and super academic work that many students struggle with!  How many of you have seen student writing that looks like this?

Squeaky is fiercely protective of her brother Raymond.  She always sticks up for him.  For example in the text Squeaky narrates, “But now, if anybody has anything to say to Raymond, anything to say about his big head, they have to come by me.”  This shows that she is protective.

Not exactly the level of scholarly writing we expect from our students….

However, with a few well-placed thought prompts student can really  push their interpretive thinking, allowing their voice to shine through.  That premise is what this small-group lesson is modeled off of.  Especially in an argument essay, we want to ensure that the writer’s voice is heard above all else.

So, I begin with this teaching point:

Teaching Point- Transition into Quotes- Unpack Quotes

Then, I follow that up with an example of my own writing that exemplifies the struggle that I am tapping into.

first try

In this sample, I’ve included very little of my own voice, nor have I explained to my readers why or how these quotes connect to my main point.  But using prompts I can begin to push my thinking and explanation.  I shared suggested prompts with students on a small teaching chart.  (Make sure to look back at my previous post, here, to see some thoughts around prompts- you can find it under the prompt chart image.)

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Using sentence stems to push thinking is really powerful.  For struggling students you can also practice this work orally.  Have students talk out their ideas, and as they talk voice over the prompts encouraging them to say more.  This process of working to say more really allows students to stretch their thinking down new avenues.  You can practice this regularly in the classroom by having students free write in their reading notebooks, using prompts to grow ideas.

During my small group, I modeled this thinking aloud, using the prompts to “say more” about each quote.  I captured some of my work on paper, so that I now have a revised paragraph to show students.

second try

Round out your small group time by giving students the opportunity to do this work with your support.  While other group members are working, have each student orally unpack each quote.  Encourage the student to say more by coaching in with the prompts.  When a solid line of thinking is established, have the student write it down for their essay.  Repeat this process with each group member.

And that’s it!  There is just ONE strategy left.  Check back soon!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- Transitioning In and Out of Quotes (Set-up)

This strategy was created to address a common gripe that many of the teachers I work with have.  The struggle is that students just plop quotes into the middle of their writing without any precursor or explanation to its relevance.  These students lack the skill of how to transition into and/or out of quotes.  In student-friendly language, we call this setting up and unpacking a quote.

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When addressing this struggle, I would only  attend to one or the other- never both at the same time.  My reasoning is that I do not want to overwhelm the students.  I’d prefer they  focus on one strategy fully rather than trying to split their attention.  If students need to work on BOTH, I always begin with setting-up quotes.  Why?  Because it’s easier to attain.  This is due to the fact that all students need to do to be successful in this skill is to add in a simple transitional phrase.

So, let’s start with how to set-up a quote (how to unpack a quote will follow).  A sample teaching point to introduce how to transition into quotes might look like this:

Teaching Point- Transition into Quotes- Set Up Quote

Begin your small group by showing a piece of your writing where you are having this struggle.

First Try

Point out to students the way the quotes are just dropped into the text without giving the reader any warning.  Explain how this seems blunt or even confusing.

Next, share with students a simple chart that provides some examples of transitional phrases they can use to set-up quotes.

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You might want to modify this chart for varying levels of students.  For example, special education students may be overwhelmed by too many options, so a shorter list would be appropriate.  Or, include sophisticated language for those students that need a little push.  After reviewing released student samples from our state test (we are a PARCC state), there was a notable score difference for  students who used more academic transitions (“In addition ___, states…”) compared to more basic versions (“Also ___, says…”).   So, you might want to build students up in that way.

Also, think about the power of using the same  transitions all year long (in literary essay,  argument, and information writing).  Recently, I discussed with Emily Strang-Campbell, a fantastic staff developer from TCRWP (as well as a friend and mentor of mine), how having a set list of 5-8 transitions might actually help students internalize them easier and transfer their use when it comes to state test time.  Often, our inclination as teachers is to give them an all-inclusive list of every possible transitions imaginable.  Our thinking might be that our chances of a student using a transition increases if we provide them with more options. The more the merrier, right?  However, by focusing in on a few very powerful transitions, that are ALWAYS used, students might remember them easier.

Another piece of advice is to hang this anchor chart in the same place all year.  Come test time–yes, you take all your instructional materials down– but if students are taking the test in your room they  may be visually reminded of the transitions because of where that chart used to be.

Getting back to the small group lesson, model incorporating transitions to set-up quotes in your demo piece.  Think aloud how you determine which to use.  Show how your piece looks with changes in place.

Second Try

Finish off your group by allowing students to try this work right in front of you as you coach into their progress.

Up next- Unpacking Quotes.  Check back soon!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- Trimming Block Quotes (Ellipses)

My last post outlined one strategy to help students trim long block quotes from their writing pieces (see that post here), and this post will show another.  Remember these strategies are for students who struggle with cutting down a long quote because they feel that their reader needs all the information in the quote.  Therefore, the strategy of omitting unimportant parts from the quote (which you can see here) is not useful for this crop of writers.

I’ll begin by sharing the teaching tool I use to teach this strategy, and then I’ll follow up with a few words of caution about using ellipses.

My teaching point for this work is pretty straightforward:

 

Teaching Point-Trimming Down Quotes- Elipses

The orange sticky flags alongside the teaching point are ellipses I use when modeling.  Students can also use them during the small group to make the lesson a bit more tactile.

Like my previously shared strategies, I start by showing a sample of my own writing that personifies the problem these students have– too much quoted text within a paragraph.  However, I empathize with them about how important I think the quote is and how difficult it would be to cut any part of it because it ALL seems so important.

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I explain to the students my thinking–how in this example, using ellipses would be the best strategy to use as opposed to paraphrasing because of the way the quote is comprised of a long list.  When reading this quote, my audience can easily get bogged down and lost in the list.  As a writer, I made the decision that although all the details are important, my audience will get the gist of what I mean if only a few are listed.

Next, I talk through my thinking of which part of the quote I would omit and replace with ellipses.  I model how to strike out that section and then I replace it with an ellipses sticky.  This way students can visually see the editing moves being made.  I, then, followed that up with a clean version incorporating the change.

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Elipses

Notice how the proportion of quoted text to my own writing is improved with the use of ellipses.  In my first try, the quote takes up about one third of my paragraph!  That’s not enough of my voice.  My second try, however, has a much better balance.

As always, this small group is rounded out with a time for students to try this work in their writing pieces with me coaching in.  I usually let them work for a few minutes, while I scan or walk the room, then check back in.

A word of caution about using ellipses.  You have to warn your students that ellipses, when used incorrectly, can alter the meaning of the quoted text.  So as writers, they need to stay true to the author’s original intent or emphasis.  For example, look at this example of an original quote (highlighted in yellow) and use of ellipses (on the pink sticky):

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Elipses Extension

Notice how the writer misused the quotation.  By eliminating the beginning and end portion, the meaning of the entire quote is skewed.  The quote is actually pointing out how non-concussed players had impaired brain functioning, but it can easily be manipulated to seem like it is showing how concussions lead to impaired brain functioning.

It is important that we warn students of this when we are teaching the use of ellipses for trimming down block quotes.  I usually have students ask themselves a question to make sure that they are staying true to the original intent of the quote:

Does this keep the essence of what the author was trying to say, or does it change it?

Try this strategy out!  Let me know how it goes!

There are only two strategies left.  Follow to see the rest!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- Trimming Block Quotes (Paraphrase)

Hello!  Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.  It sure was a busy one!  I promised to post after the holidays and had every intention of getting back to you last week.  However, as you may know the East Coast was hit with a “bomb cyclone” and my school district had TWO snow days on Thursday and Friday.  So…in the past 16 days I’ve  only had one work day. Wow!

But let’s get back to it!

Today I’d like to share another tool for helping students add evidence to their argument pieces.  This strategy is for students who have included block quotes that are too large in their writing.  Remember, a good rule of thumb is that quoted text should only take up about 5-10% of the writing.  The difference with this cohort of students is that they  feel like they can’t cut the block quote because the information is important for the reader to know.  So, these writers cannot use the previously shared Allow Your Writing to Shine strategy, of striking to omit parts of quote that are deemed unimportant.

To solve this problem, students can choose to either paraphrase parts of the quote or use ellipses.  Today’s post will highlight how I teach students to paraphrase their quote (how to use ellipses will follow).

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I began this small group with the teaching point pictured below and by showing students a piece of my writing that had an overly large portion of quoted text:

Teaching Point-Trimming Down Quotes- Paraphrase

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Then, I demonstrated how I chose parts of the quote to paraphrase.  I modeled how to strike out the chosen sentences and then rewrite them in my own words.

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Paraphrase

Next,  I shared a revised version of my original writing that incorporated the paraphrased sections of the quote.  I pointed out how my entire paragraph had to be reworked a bit as opposed to just plugging in the paraphrased sentences.

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Paraphrase

Finally, as always, I finished this group by letting students have a go.  Each worked right in front of me on trying this strategy as I coached in and addressed any individual needs.

There you have it! Have your tried any of the strategies I’ve shared with your kiddos?  How did it go?

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

P.S. Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!