Anchor Charts

G2 Information Writing: elaboration anchor chart 
At the end of last term, Libbey came up to me whilst the class were busy revising and asked if she could work at the front of the room.  "Sure," I replied and then I asked her why.  "I need to be close to the chart so I can double check if I have done everything I need to do to make my writing strong," was the reply that came back.  To say I was amazed is an understatement. 

Although I use charts all the time in workshop to keep track of what we are up to and remind children of strategies they could try or behaviours they could follow, I have never had a child actually come forward and state their intention to use a chart when working independently.  A quick workshop interruption later and sure enough, I had half a dozen students sitting in front of the chart, talking about what they were going to try in their work that day.  The power of anchor charts cannot be underestimated and I personally still prefer them handwritten and up on the wall permanently for the duration of a unit so that I can refer to them often. 

Every year when Celena visits us she brings with her some new resource that we suddenly realise that we cannot live without.  Last year it was the giant post-it notes.  The post-its allow you to write your strategy before the lesson and add it to the chart right in the moment, thus saving time and keeping charts looking good. It also means if you make a spelling mistake or draw something that you are totally unhappy with, you can start over quickly on another post-it rather than having to live with crossings out or wonky writing on a chart for the whole unit if you don't want to.

Further examples of sticky note anchor charts are below:

G5 Fantasy Book Clubs
K2 All About Books: writing process chart
G1 Opinion Writing: idea generation chart

We have a whole bunch of these post-it notes in the office, if you would like to give your charts a revamp then please let me know and I can send some your way.

Inspired by Punctuation

Inspired by Dan Feigelson's labsites and wise words and, wanting to get started while my momentum was high I began a punctuation study in grade 2 pretty much as soon as Dan had finished his grade 2 labsite  As expected, he was right, the children were engaged throughout and our conversations are definitely richer as we now see the purpose behind being creative and thoughtful punctuators.
This is how the 4 week inquiry went:

Firstly, I framed the inquiry around 3 questions:
What jobs do the different punctuation marks do?
Why do authors use different types of punctuation?
How can we use punctuation to make our writing stronger?

Lesson 1.
Was pretty much a carbon copy of part 1 of Dan's study except because we were actually in a non fiction unit I used the Nat Geo book, Whales and because my students are really struggling to use end punctuation, I focussed on exclamation marks instead of dashes.  The transcript of his lesson in grade 2 is here.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the end of the first lesson, the children had come up with nowhere near what they had in the labsite but I'm guessing it was because the only adult in the room was me.  They needed more of the same.  

I also noticed that they had not really noticed any internal punctuation at all.  It might have been to do with the fact I had chosen to go with exclamation marks as my example, it could also have been the fact that the books they were using from their book baggies simply didn't feature so many complex sentences.

Lesson 2.
Starting off with some of the interesting finds from lesson 1 as a focus:
And, a bit more modelling from me I sent the students of their merry way again.

This time the searching was far more successful.

At the end of our lesson we shared our post-its, accessed our inner actors and read the sentences with and without the punctuation so we could really hear the job the mark did. We discussed why authors might have chosen to include these marks in these places.

I then collected in their findings, took some photocopies and created this display:

Lessons 3 & 4.
We started at the display to recap.  I had typed up some of the punctuation names we had collected and cut into strips.  I asked the students to search for more to fit the criteria to find out if this was a common reason for an author to use an exclamation mark, question mark or ellipse.

After 20 minutes some of our charts were getting quite full.
We concluded the lesson by browsing across the charts and seeing if we agreed with the placement of sticky notes.  We realised that some of the sentences could probably go into different categories and that you really needed to have the book back to see what else was happening to determine what job the author was intending the punctuation mark to do.  

We followed up with this in a short whole class lesson, where we began to put some of the smaller groups together for example, the 'don't do that' exclamation mark, the 'do that' exclamation mark could both fit together under the category of 'bossy' exclamation marks.

Lesson 5.
We started by revisiting the charts made in the previous lesson and wondering once more why an author might have chosen to use them.  

I picked certain sentences from each chart and the children turned and talked regarding the author's purpose.  I created some sentence starters to help this process:
Authors use punctuation...
Authors use question marks...
Authors use exclamation marks...
Authors use elipses...

The students then wrote their own thoughts about punctuation use onto cards, they used our charts and sentence starters as necessary.

Lesson 6.
Now was the time to put it all together, if authors used punctuation to help the reader read with expression, to help the reader know if they should be wondering something, to help the reader know how a character was feeling... Then surely we as authors should be doing the same thing.

In grade 2 Dan had modelled a bit of this in his labsite.  I modelled choosing to revise one of my pages from my own expert book, crossing out the entire page and rewriting, explicitly modelling my thought process as I went.  The children were then given the choice depending on where they were in the writing cycle - they could either rewrite a chapter or write a new chapter whilst paying attention to punctuation.  

Greta chose to rewrite her River Dolphin page. Quite a lot of using and confusing going on but you cannot deny the enthusiasm by which she is going about it.  

Co-creating success criteria in an 'Informational Fiction' writing unit

Our Grade 3 classes are currently engaged in an 'Informational Fiction' writing unit. During this unit, students will produce a short story which includes accurate, factual information with the intention of both entertaining and teaching the reader. It starts with immersing students in a stack of ‘Informational Fiction’ picture books such as these:

The students were shown the success criteria (as below) for this unit early on, so they could discuss the objectives for their finished story before starting their drafts.

Click to enlarge

In this post, I will share the process used by one of our teachers, Catherine Butler, who was experimenting with adapting this process to involve the children in co-creating the success criteria for the unit.

When she presented and discussed the criteria with the class, she realised that students didn't fully understand the statements and so they decided as a class to create their own version.

They started by handing out a variety of mentor texts, similar to the ones shown above. In their writing partnerships, students were asked to 'Post-it note' anything they noticed about the text in terms of:

  • What do you like about it?
  • What made it good?
  • What important things did the author include?

They then came back together as a class and discussed their observations while the teacher typed it up in a document which they could all see on the screen. The students decided it was helpful to write examples of each of the statements so they could go back and refer to the books later. Here is the start of their co-created checklist, which is a work in progress:

Click to enlarge

The students have been given a copy to refer to as they commence their drafts. Catherine will refer to the relevant statements during mini-lessons and provide examples from the mentor texts.

During the revision stage, she will ask students to focus on 3 statements that they feel need more attention in their piece of writing. She intends to come back to the checklist at the end of the unit and ask students if there are any statements they would like to change and remove.

I will write a further post in a few weeks time to review the success of this process in terms of the student's learning.

Tracking Thinking in Reading

I have recently been working alongside our G5 teachers, trying to develop the level of thinking within reading responses. We started the session by talking about 'Why Post-It our Thinking?'
The students gave great suggestions:

  • "to remember our thoughts"
  • "so we can talk about them later with our partner or book club"
  • "to slow down, pause and force ourselves to think harder"
  • "to show evidence of our thinking/ to make our thinking visible"

We then gave students a menu of possible ways to track thinking and a bookmark which would help them to remember the different ways:

I  modeled examples of how I tried these methods out to track my thinking while reading 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. Each time I read a Post-it, I asked the students to discuss what they thought I was tracking. Here is a Padlet showing my example Post-Its.

As the students went off to read independently, they selected one of these ways to track their thinking and at the end of the reading time, we came back together to share some of their Post-its

Individualised Spelling Practice

I recently came across an effective process which one of our G3 teachers had set up to help children build spelling consciousness. The process enabled them to set up individualised spelling lists of words they would like to learn to spell. Often this can be difficult to manage in a time effective manner, but this process only takes about 10 mins each morning and 20 mins or so on a Friday. Rather than use preset lists, the student is engaged in the process of deciding which words would be useful for them to learn to spell.Here is the process she uses:

1. Students collect words they wish to focus on in the back of their spelling book. These may come from:

  • Words they come across as they read (post it notes)
  • The errors they, or their teacher, have identified in their writing
  • Words from Language study focus of the week
  • Words from their current Unit of Study
  • High frequency words
  • Words around the classroom

2. On a Friday, they select 10 words to transfer to the left hand column of the Look, Cover, Write, Check sheet. They should cross them out in their spelling book.
This template is good as it combines spelling with handwriting
practice ( using Handwriting without tears lines)

A possible idea here is for the students to type them into the computer and use this to spell check (Pages or Text Edit)  before transferring onto this sheet. You could send a Pages doc something like this via Hapara.

3. Each morning, students are given 10 minutes to Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check their 10 words.

4. On Friday, the students work with a partner to do a 'buddy test' of their 10 words in their spelling book.

5. Then the process begins again with selecting another 10 words.

I can provide copies of these resources if anyone is keen on setting up something similar.

G3 Realistic Fiction

This year, we have been exploring different ways for students to publish their writing. During a recent G3 'Realistic Fiction' unit, students in 3JSt worked on publishing using Quicktime to produce a voice recording of their story.

They began by developing story ideas in their notebook and then, when ready, they drafted their story on paper. The mini-lessons were directed towards improving their initial drafts by focusing on :
  • developing a character with whom the reader could empathise
  • adding details such as thoughts, actions and dialogue
  • using show not tell to demonstrate character's emotions

Each student selected an excerpt from their story, which they revised and rewrote on a separate sheet. Once they were happy with the content, the writers focused on editing to correct spelling, punctuation and tense.

The decision was made to use Quicktime to record their stories, which they did in 2 distinct ways.
  1. They started by using a Quicktime Audio Recording to practise reading their extracts aloud. When listening back, they checked their volume, pace, expression and pausing and then they tried to improve their weaknesses in their second recording.
  2. They drew a picture to represent the scene they had chosen to work on, which they scanned and emailed to themselves. Once they had opened it, they used Quicktime Screen Recording to create a new screen recording. Here is an example:

For the celebration of this unit, the class gathered on the carpet and enjoyed popcorn whilst listening to each extract.

Conferring with Readers

I was recently working with a couple of Grade 5 teachers on support materials for teachers to use during reading conferences. This arose following our visit from Kathy Collins and our discussions on how to make our conferences effective when we were not familiar with the book the student is reading. We discussed the kind of generic questions and ideas we could explore with the student and decided to put together a help sheet which teachers could use as a support for their conference.

There are 3 possible routes for determining the teaching which takes place in a conference, as follows:

We then discussed the kinds of generic questions which a teacher might use to explore the child's understanding of the book and organised these questions into strands within Fiction and Non-Fiction.