Sunday, February 23, 2014

How to have effective writing conferences

Source: A Venn Diagram I often show my writing students.

Teaching College Composition writing, I've done a lot of research through my MA coursework on the best and most effective way to teach the writing process. So often, my students--even my College students--don't like to go back and revise and edit their work. I try to impart to them how important this is, and that writing is a process, not a race to get the final draft done the fastest.

I often tell them that professional authors--people who get paid to write and sell millions of copies of their books--have to go through MANY revisions and edits before it is ready to publish. So if we are amateur writers, how can we expect to have a perfect piece of writing on the first try, when that isn't even possible for people who make a living doing this? Usually it sinks in a little when I say that.

But today I want to focus on one specific part of the writing process that I started doing last year and have had a lot of success with: writing conferences.

The key to having a successful conference is making the STUDENT in charge of leading them. I used to grow frustrated because I would have students come sit by my desk to "conference" and ask questions like "What are you struggling with? Where do you need my help?" and I'd get answers like "I don't know" or "I need help with everything," neither of which are helpful for me as the instructor.

So now, I make sure students are prepared for the conference and that they lead it. The day before writing conferences (this happens AFTER peer revision has taken place), I will give my students a short form to fill out with no more than 7-8 questions. I ask things like:

  • What is the strongest part of your essay so far?
  • What has been the hardest part of writing this essay?
  • What are three specific revisions you plan to make before submitting this essay?
  • Point out one or two specific places in your essay you'd like me to look at, as well as write out specific questions you have about those sections.
I will also have them highlight important parts of their essay like the thesis, topic sentences, maybe the counterargument if we're writing argumentative essays, and they will point those out to me during our conference and defend why they are strong or ask me about concerns they have.

I will only meet with students who have completely filled out the sheet. I do let students fill them out later for partial credit if they decide they want to meet with me after all, but my perspective is that any given conference takes 5-10 min. depending. I have a LOT of students to get through. If you are not serious about preparing for it and actually asking me questions, it would be a better use of time for me to meet with someone else and for you to work on your essay then.

When a student comes up with the form filled out, I asked THEM to walk through the questions with me, pointing things out in the essay and asking me the questions they wrote down. This gives a focus to the conference so it isn't a waste of time. I can also hone in on what is bothering them about the essay instead of asking about a bunch of things they are not worried about.

I will not read an entire essay and "grade" it before the final is submitted for grading. I tell my students that up front. However, I WILL look at specific places in their essays that they struggle with and answer specific questions.

I get a lot of, "Can you read these three paragraphs and tell me what I did wrong?" when we first start out. I will not do that.

But if they ask, "Can you read this paragraph and focus on my transitions? I am struggling with those," that I WILL do.

I think it is SO important for students to be able to reflect on their own writing and pick out what they struggle with and what they excel at, instead of just having teachers tell them those things. It also helps me help them during our conferences, and I found a get a much higher quality of final essay coming in when I conference with them first, so it ends up saving me some time on grading because we hashed out some problem areas beforehand, and they fixed them.

Do you hold writing conferences with your students? What tips do you have to make them effective?

Friday, February 21, 2014

One Year Anniversary + Sale

I just realized it has been one year since I started my teaching blog! I can't believe it has gone by so quickly.

I have loved getting to know and connect with other teachers across the country and have gotten countless good ideas from all of you. In this profession, we need all the support and help that we can get, and for that, I thank all of you. I am ready for another great year of teaching and blogging.

To celebrate my one year anniversary, I am throwing my first sale on my TpT store this weekend, Saturday the 22nd-Sunday the 23rd. Everything in my store is 15% off.

My store is small, as I am just getting started, but I also have some freebies I would love for you to check out as well, as I am trying to grow my followers and get some (honest) feedback and reviews. I would love it if you checked it out. Let me know what other kinds of products you would like to see.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Expanding my online life: TpT and Facebook

Well I decided to take the plunge today and become a seller on Teachers Pay Teachers. I have used so many great resources that I found on that site that I decided to share some things myself.

I am just starting out and have spent a few hours on it today, so I only have a handful of lessons uploaded so far, but I will gradually be adding more.

You can find my store here. I would LOVE to have you follow me as I start building my store.

To go along with that, I have also started a Facebook page for my blog. I'd love to follow some of you on Facebook and vice versa. You can find my page here.

I can't wait to start meeting more people in the teaching blogging world and sharing some great ideas for our classrooms!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Today's Techology Tidbit: Blogging in the Classroom

It's been awhile since I posted how I've been incorporating technology into my classroom. I thought I'd talk today about something I just started using this semester: BLOGGING.

I have a Weebly page that I use for my website, where I post digital copies of handouts, as well as the agenda for the week. I have really enjoyed this platform more so than because you have more design options to choose from, and it is so easy to input things like YouTube videos or embed documents. I'd highly recommend Weebly if you're looking for a place to host a classroom website.

One feature they also have is a blog component you can add to your site. I have primarily used this with my juniors, but I also do some blogging with College English as well.

Each week by Monday (I usually actually do this on the weekend), I will upload a new blog. Some days, it ties directly into a lesson we did that week. For instance, one week we learned three new tier 2 vocab. words, so their blog activity had them do some writing with those words.

Other weeks, I have them read a current events article and answer some questions I pose. I think students need to learn how to read dense and difficult text more fluently, and I also think it's great to make them critical thinkers about things currently going on in our country/world. So often, the only "news" they get is what's on their Facebook or Twitter feed. Both can be used to garner information about the world, but we can't be sure students are actually using them for that purpose.

My favorite place to find articles is Kelly Gallagher's website. If you are unfamiliar with him, he is an English teacher from CA who is "dedicated to building and sharing his knowledge about literacy" (from his website). The link I posted above takes you to his article of the week. He picks a lot of great, relevant pieces each week for students to read and ends with a few follow-up questions. It's a great resource to use if you don't want to have to scour the Internet for just the right article for your classes.

So, students have until that Friday night at midnight to post their blog response. I do moderate comments, so no comments get posted without my approval first. I have had absolutely zero issues with inappropriate content doing it this way. We occasionally work on them in class, but 80% of the time, this is an outside-of-class assignment, so they are doing some critical reading/thinking outside the classroom as well. The following Monday after I've had the weekend to grade their responses, we talk about it in class. I will sometimes have students read and respond to other students' comments as well to get a discussion/conversation going on the blog.

Since we are going to 1:1 in the very near future and also getting some sort of Learning Management System (like Canvas or Schoology, etc), blogging and online discussion forums will be making their way into more teachers' classes, I'm sure. I've loved experimenting with it this year and will definitely continue blogging as an extension of our classroom activities.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Creating a Transcendentalist Society

Well, only one snow day last week, and hopefully none this week. We are up to 7 so far, and our last school day (to date) is June 4. We normally are out before Memorial Day, so this is late for us :(

It has been hard getting into a routine with my students, and I hate that my lessons seem disjointed because we have not been in school regularly. I kicked off January with my juniors studying Transcendentalism and we studied works from Thoreau and Emerson. We would get two days here, three days there. So I decided in lieu of a big test, I wanted a culminating project that still allowed students to show they understood the main tenets of that field of thought.

I found the idea of having them create a Transcendental society in my searches online. I wish I could point to the original source, but I found this project on multiple sites, so I don't know who originated it. I will link to one source here.

Again, I found this exact project elsewhere, so who knows who originally started it.

I decided to not have my students do task 7, designing a brochure, since I only wanted this to be a two- to three-day project. I let students work with partners or alone, and they had to design a Power Point or Prezi showcasing their society. All their decisions--name, monetary system, legal system, etc.--had to tie in to Transcendental beliefs, and they had to explain why they chose everything based on Transcendentalism.

We started presenting these Friday, and I am really pleased with the outcome so far. Instead of just memorizing facts about this movement, it required them to understand it well enough to apply it to a society of their own. I would definitely do this project again.