How to Combine Service Learning and Persuasive Writing

Notes from the Classroom

In this season of giving, it can be challenging to get students to think beyond themselves and their list of wishes.

That’s why an Academic Service Learning project is one of my favorite things to do. This project, part of my district’s initiative to connect learning and community service, allows me to combine persuasive writing with student choice, in a way that produces lots of great ideas for a class project–and guarantees family involvement from the start.

Our Service Learning Begins with Reading

I start by reading students several books over the course of a week, asking them what they notice, and charting their thinking. At the end of the week, we start to look for common themes that emerge. This helps to launch the conversation about our project. Books I have used include:

Some other books that may be helpful are:

Students Propose Actual Service Projects, via Persuasive Essays

After we have read the books and discussed themes, I reveal the assignment to the students: they must come up with an idea for our class ASL project and write a persuasive essay about why we should do their project.

I send home a letter to families asking them to have a conversation with their child, and to help them come up with some ideas for our project. Students bring back their ideas and then they choose one to use as the basis for their persuasive essay.

This makes the writing so much more purposeful. Students know that they have to convince not only me, but also their classmates, in order to do their project.

Then We Vote

Once all essays have been submitted, I begin the task of choosing five to six for the students to vote on. (Side note: if you haven’t used Google Classroom before, you should try it for writing assignments! Life changing!) I try to find a nice variety of ideas as well as essays that are well written.

After this is done, I read the finalists out loud to the class. I always stress that they are not to tell who wrote what; this needs to be about the project and the writing, not a popularity contest. Once the votes are in, we begin the process of planning and implementing our ASL project.

And Finally, We Take Action  

This project has been a great way for me to get kids engaged, help them find passion, and get them to think outside of themselves. We have raised money for local animal shelters, sent money to WWF for elephants, made blankets and games for children in local hospitals, and purchased books for children in a nearby school. The reward of seeing my students feel so successful goes far beyond what I could have imagined. I will never teach persuasive writing any other way.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Still Looking for Holiday Gifts? These Books are Perfect for ELA Teachers.

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

The holidays are upon us, but don’t despair! It’s not too late to find that perfect gift for an ELA colleague–or even yourself.

To help with your quest, our bloggers have put together an easy holiday-shopping list full of award winners. Now go get them!

If You’re Looking for Picture Books

With the holidays coming, teaching curriculum in any cohesive fashion can be challenging–at best. That’s why taking a break with a Mock Caldecott unit is the perfect way to have some really meaningful conversations about books, while exposing kids to some of the best picture books of the year. I did this last year and it was amazing. The kids really got into it and even my reluctant readers engaged because this was about the pictures, not the reading. (Sort of.) There are so many resources out there once you start to Google: book trailers, videos about the making of the books.

Some standouts from last year that I would give as gifts:

Shy, by Deborah Freedman

It Is Not Time for Sleeping, by Lisa Graff; illustrated by Lauren Castillo

The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown

The Night Gardener, by The Fan Brothers

They All Saw A Cat, by Brendan Wenzel

-Beth Rogers

If You’d Like Page-Turning Nonfiction that Deftly Tackles Social Issues

I’m not even finished reading The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater, and I can’t wait to give it away. As each chapter passes, I see more and more power and potential in this engrossing nonfiction narrative, and I want to get it into the hands of students and teachers everywhere. Whether you give it to teens or teachers, there are a lot of reasons to put this book under the tree this year:

  • Its mentor text opportunities are endless. If nothing else, check out that first chapter. If that doesn’t model an engrossing strategy for hooking readers, I don’t know what will.
  • It tells stories of those whose voices often go unheard–because #representationmatters.
  • It honors the complex nature of social issues, and respects its audience’s ability to wrestle with them. It’s too easy to treat social issues as black and white and ignore the gray areas, in favor of teaching teens a lesson. One of the things I love most about the YA lit that’s been coming out lately is that it honors the gray areas. Slater respects her teen audience enough to let them grapple with multiple perspectives and difficult questions.
  • It uses the power of story to make an argument, allowing readers to explore issues that they now feel connected to.

-Megan Kortlandt

And if You’d Like a Page-Turning YA Novel That Deftly Tackles Social Issues

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is the beautiful story of Starr, an African-American teen who’s caught between two communities: the community where she lives and the community where she goes to school. When I read the novel, I knew that it would be my first book talk of the school year, because I could see many of my students in Angie Thomas’ characters.

When I shared the book with a class, I explained how the title was inspired by Tupac. Later when I saw a student from the class, she asked to borrow the book. I can never turn down a student who’s asking to borrow a book–even if it is a crisp new hardcover edition. Even though I made her promise to return it, I had a quiet feeling that it just wasn’t my book anymore.  

My premonition was right. Recently, she withdrew from our school. But something tells me that the book is right where it belongs–with someone who may read it and see herself, her friends, and her family in the book. The Hate U Give was not my book to keep, but to give.

– Lauren Nizol

A Novel that Can do Double Duty in a History Unit about Katrina

Regulars on this blog are probably betting all the money in their bank accounts that I’m going to suggest a graphic novel (just kidding–what teacher has money saved up in a bank account?!). I’m going to branch out in a new direction, though, and recommend a tough but beautiful read by Jesmyn Ward called Salvage the Bones. It’s gorgeously written and tells a compelling story of a poor African American family struggling to prepare for the devastation that readers know Hurricane Katrina is going to visit upon their home and community in mere days.

The book is a tragic masterpiece, whose dramatic irony relies on our awareness of the storm, stacked against the doubt expressed by many of the story’s characters. But I also love sharing it with my classroom readers because of its beautifully rendered portrayals of the adolescent perspectives. It’s definitely a book for more advanced teen readers, but that’s exactly why I thought to highlight it here: I’m often so devoted to finding the next gripping story for my reluctant readers that I completely neglect to challenge (or even engage!) with my eager ones. This book offers readers not only a diversifying worldview, but a context that is at once modern and foreign to them; we don’t realize sometimes that events like Katrina that feel modern to us are somewhat distant (and meaningless!) to our current HS students.

And if you were REALLY betting on me to give the gift of graphic novel recommendations, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reimagining of Black Panther ASAP. Happy Holidays!

– Mike Ziegler

How District Staff Can Best Work with Schools

Notes from the Classroom

This year I’ve begun to work in a new role, as an instructional technologist. This is not only a new job for me, but it’s also a new position in my district. I am lucky, though, to be part of a team. I have others with me as we figure this out. We also have a great boss, who understands that the following are key when you’re working with schools.

You Have to Build Relationships  

This is our #1 goal this year. There are seven of us and twelve buildings, so this is definitely a challenge. We all have buildings where we are the “key people,” but we also all go where we are needed and where we have experience to meet the needs of the staff.

Not only do we work with teachers to help them effectively integrate technology into their teaching, but we are also responsible for delivering Information Literacy curriculum to all students K-5. This means we are getting to know people, and they are figuring out who we are, what we do, and how this is going to work. It is critical that the staff see me as helpful, reliable, flexible, and useful.

That’s a tall order! We all know that working with technology comes with lots of hiccups along the way, so having a good relationship is key when the inevitable happens and the technology doesn’t work.

Learn, Learn, and Learn–and Let It Be Known

I knew going into this job that there was a lot I didn’t know. Yet, until I was in it, I didn’t have any inkling just how much I didn’t know!

So I’m learning. Every. Single. Day.

I love it, which is the good news. I’m super excited about so many things, and I know that the teachers I am working with can see my excitement. I am very up front about not knowing everything, and most people are good with that. They are learning that if I don’t know something, I will find out, or I will bring in someone who does. I’m participating in lots of professional development opportunities (yes, some on my own time) because it’s what I need to do, and I’m loving what I do. (That loving-what-I-do thing is really important to me, and it’s what I tell my students: love what you do and it will never feel like work.)

Give Yourself a Break

For me, this is both figurative and literal. It is very hard to be on a tech team with people who have better tech skills than you; teachers as a rule tend to never want to admit that they don’t know something in the professional realm. I’ve had to embrace this reality and stop beating myself up about it. Instead, I am using it as motivation to learn. There is something very freeing about saying, “I have no idea, but I know who does, and I’ll find out.”

The literal part of taking a break is pulling myself away from the computer at night, when I need to be spending time with my family. Of course, this is the life of a teacher–always doing school work at night, after working eight, nine, even ten hours at school during the day. Go figure.

I know that this year will continue to be a year of amazing learning, foibles and falls, and lots of triumphs. It is a new, crazy journey, and I am so happy to be on it.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Why Interdisciplinary Units Are So Powerful

Notes from the Classroom

Examples of students’ character cutouts

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

We’re in full swing with the end-of-year craziness. Yet this also is the time when I teach the American Revolution in social studies. I’m able to combine the content with our historical fiction unit in reading, and our opinion unit in writing. This is a wonderful opportunity to combine content areas and provide a truly immersive experience for my students.

It is so nice to have a seamless day of reading both fiction and nonfiction texts around this topic, and having conversations that span reading, writing, and social studies. I find that I am excited about teaching, and students are excited about learning. It’s no small feat at this time of year!

What The Unit Looks Like

Right now in the hallway are cutouts of characters from our read aloud and our book club books. Within the cutouts are character traits and reflections about critical choices, power, and how these characters were shaped by the times in which they lived. Connecting all of the characters is a red string, and tomorrow students are going to spend time reading the cutouts and making connections. Then we will write them on paper that will hang from the string, making our thinking visible. This is a new project but one whose outcome I am super excited to see.

Another project that I always do during this time of year is a thinking routine from Ron Ritchhart called a “step inside.” This writing project combines the best parts of narrative writing, yet allows students to use their imagination to step inside the life of a slave from the 1500s. As students examine the three phases of slavery as outlined in our text, they attempt to step inside and develop empathy for the experience of these people. This is a lengthy writing assignment and yet one that is incredibly powerful. I have had students tell me it is their favorite writing assignment of the year.

I find that students actually are able to bring more elements of narrative writing in this assignment than they sometimes are able to do in their own pieces. I think this is because of the scaffolding required for the assignment. Also, the assignment requires that they pay attention to a number of details, which enables them expand their normal writing habits.

Integrating Opinion Writing

The opinion writing comes very late in May and in early June. This is when students have to take a side in the American Revolution. They are assigned either the Patriot side or the Loyalist side, and they have to defend their side based on evidence from their historical-fiction text. They also rely on the supplemental reading we do with nonfiction texts.

The opinion pieces have to include a counter argument acknowledging the position of the other side. Yet they also have to defend their own positions and attempt to persuade the reader to agree with them. All of this is used in a real-life debate with a student moderator, and the kids absolutely love it!

As I write this we are at the end of an unusually warm (86 degrees!) day in May. I have a huge to-do list and yet I am still excited about all that is going on in my classroom. All of this gets me wondering how I can channel this same type of integration and excitement into the rest of my year. Perhaps this will become my summer project: examining my curriculum to find better connections and texts that will lend themselves to this cross-curricular type of integration. My wheels are already spinning.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Easing M-STEP Stress

Notes from the Classroom

M-Step-Logo_473059_7While all eyes are on spring break, just behind it lurks the dreaded, gray fog–the time when the use of technology in our building becomes dedicated to one purpose: M-STEP.

Our online standardized testing begins right after we return from a much-needed respite. However, as we are frantically wrapping up our informational unit of study and preparing for parent-teacher conferences, who has time to prep?

Thankfully, most of the “prep” for my students has already happened, thanks to our use of online reading and writing resources. Still, though we’re just two school weeks out, there is much that can be done in terms of online practice.

Reading 

Early in the year I created an account at ReadTheory for all of my students. This is a great online program that provides students with an experience that is very much like the M-STEP format: students read a passage and answer multiple choice questions.

What I love about ReadTheory is that it is computer adaptive when students pretest. It also gives them an explanation as to why an answer is incorrect. ReadTheory also offers free, printable assessments that can be used in the classroom if paper-and-pencil practice is needed. (Blogger Jianna Taylor describes how Edulastic addresses many of these goals as well.)

Newsela is another great resource for leveled passages. With Newsela, students can read passages online and answer questions. There are abundant resources on this site, which is also searchable by topic and grade level. (For more on Newsela, check out Amy Gurney’s post from 2016 about the site.)

Often, I find inspiration on other teachers’ sites. Mr. Nussbaum is one of them. His site is full of resources, and the reading passages are not only leveled, but they look very much like the screen that students view when taking the M-STEP.

Between these three sites (and in addition to the actual M-STEP prep site) students should be well prepared for the format, and comfortable with reading and answering questions in this online format.

Writing 

These days, there are many resources available for online writing. Many students at the elementary level are using Google Docs–sometimes even in kindergarten. Other online story creation sites have exploded over the years as well.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hOne of my favorites–and, for my students, most beneficial–is blogging. Blogging is something we do all year long, but in the spring we also participate in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Classroom Challenge. This challenge changes the game because now there are real people–not just teachers and classmates–reading our writing. Students begin to care more about how they write, what they write, and what other people think of their writing.

This lends itself very well to M-STEP. I tell my students to imagine they are writing for their blog audience. The feedback, I tell them, will come from your score. So use everything you know about good writing.

Bottom Line

I am so fortunate to teach in a district that does not place great emphasis on these tests. Our superintendent is very clear that this is one score, on one day, and does not begin to tell the story of who the child is as a learner. We all know that the true “prep” is in the good teaching that we do day to day.

However, ease of use with technology will allow my students to relax and get down to the business of showing what they know, the best that they can. To me, this is the perfect combination.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

 

 

Student Portfolios: A Proposal

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_422892943Student portfolios are a buzzword in education right now. The idea isn’t new, as many educators know. What is new is the idea of digital portfolios. Many software companies are jumping on board and offering some user-friendly options, which are perfect for many classrooms and families (these include Seesaw and Sesame).

As a fifth grade teacher, I am focused on providing my students with a tool that they can use and manage independently throughout their school career. Enter Google.

As a district, we use Google for all of our email and applications. Each student has a Google account that is assigned in elementary school, but for which the ability to use email is turned off. Students are still able to use Google Docs and the other applications in their Google Drive, and beginning in kindergarten, they create docs and save them in a folder.

My vision for my students’ portfolios extends beyond this, into a format that I used during my graduate program: a website.

Though this may sound daunting, I actually teach my students how to create a basic website during our informational unit of study. Google allows us to download a template and edit from there. This works extremely well and helps to engage, enhance, and extend student learning. (See Triple E Framework for more information.)

Students are more engaged in the task; the use of technology enhances the learning (takes it to levels paper and pencil could not); and they are more likely to extend their learning beyond the school day. That is, they work on the task at home, when they don’t have to, but want to!

These websites are all shared with the teacher “as owner,” which ensures that anything that may need to be edited can be done quickly, by an adult.

The Vision

If students were taught to create a website for their portfolios, the possibilities would be endless.

Students could have a page for each subject area. There, they could upload their best pieces of writing, pictures of projects, and even videos of presentations and performances. The site could grow with them throughout their school career and into college and/or work applications. Students could easily capture community service and extracurricular activities, with pictures, reflections, and uploaded certificates. The site could be held “in house” to address privacy concerns until the student turned 18.

Considerations

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Of course, Google is not the only platform students can use. There are many great options out there (Weebly, Wix, and WordPress are a few of the top ones). There would be several factors that would need to be considered for those, including: management (ease for teacher), cost (upgraded sites cost money in order to have certain features), and privacy (having sites as part of a district account allows for greater overview).

Still, no matter what the vehicle, online portfolios increase student agency and have the potential to transform student learning. If our students were constantly thinking about how they could demonstrate and capture their best learning, and they had the power to design and showcase that learning, how powerful would that be?

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

The Words We Carry

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_323200592Sixteen years ago I wrote a book.

I was inspired by my then-three-year-old son, who asked the innocent question, “Won’t the school be lonely this summer?” That question sparked something in me and I quickly drafted a story about a new school being lonely over the summer. My children enjoyed it immensely.

A few years later, I went to a children’s book writing conference and I paid extra to have an editor review my story. I will never forget sitting across from her as she told me that the concept of a school with thoughts and feelings was “creepy.” She told me perhaps I should rewrite it from the perspective of the school’s friend, the janitor. I never did. It didn’t feel right. I put the book away in a drawer and deferred that dream.

Two weeks ago I began to gather books to do a Mock Caldecott unit with my students, inspired by a teacher’s blog I found through a Twitter post. Imagine my shock when I came across School’s First Day of School, a story about a new school that has thoughts and feelings. A new school who talks to the janitor.

I was dumbfounded. I thought, “This could have been me. I could have gotten my book published. But I quit trying.”

The takeaway for me was immediate: the power of our words. I let someone’s negative words stop me. I knew all of the stories about authors who were rejected many times. But there was something about her words that struck me and made me feel so bad about my writing that I just quit. As a teacher, it made me think: have I done that to a student? Have I ever said something carelessly, even jokingly, that has caused a student to quit writing, quit trying, to defer his or her dream?

I hope not. But I know now I will not.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Coincidentally, last week my principal showed us a video from Tedx, where Alison Ledgerwood talks about getting stuck in the negatives. The research is absolutely astounding about the power of negative thinking, and how negative experiences are often stronger than, and not offset by, positive ones. Wow.

I believe this experience came to me for a reason. Multiple reasons perhaps. But the biggest for me is this: I must always, always, find something good to say to my students. I must encourage them as writers, as readers, as people, so that they never defer any dream. I must find ways to help them not let the words of others get them down, as I did.

Perhaps I should blow the dust off of another manuscript I have in that same drawer and send it out into the world. Then keep sending it, no matter what. For now, I will pledge to myself and to my students to be the voice of encouragement and praise in their heads, one that will hopefully shout louder than any critic they will ever hear.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Improving Peer Feedback in Blogs

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_535675201In the beginning of our blogging year, I always tell students to wait to comment on each other’s writing. There are always those who ignore me and add all sorts of silly comments with emojis. What they don’t realize is that I have to approve all comments first. I control this intentionally because I want to teach them how to comment.

This may sound super controlling, but there is a reason for this. I teach my students to comment on what the author did well as a writer — focusing on the lessons we have worked on in class. I tell them to leave the constructive criticism to me — that’s my job. They need to read for what was done well and highlight that. The results have been more than I had hoped for.

The Benefits of Positive Feedback

My students’ comments are truly insightful:

  • “I really liked how you put show not tell in your intro because it really helps me understand how she is feeling.”
  • “I love how you made a connection to your real life with your family and Judah 🙂 I also like your choice of words and detail because you can really picture your story.”
  • “There were some pleasing turns in this story that I really enjoyed!”

Students love getting comments from their peers, and when the feedback is positive, I see them more excited to write and to revise their writing. I can still leave private comments about things that need fixing (spelling is my #1) or I can have a one-on-one conference if there are larger issues.

My students let me know if I am behind on approving comments because they love to see their names in print in an “editor” mode. It also allows for good conversation if I choose not to publish a comment. Usually it is because they either were critical or forgot to comment about the writing. Keeping their focus on what the author did well as a writer helps them leave meaningful feedback and also shifts their mindset for their own writing.

The biggest benefit from intentional commenting is that it has made my writers more aware of their own use of craft and more aware of good writing as they read. Students are coming up to me to show me good passages in books. Some are starting to notice when stories are not well written. This is something I could not teach and if I tried, I probably could not achieve.

I am excited to see how commenting will continue with this group this year. I may experiment with allowing them to add craft suggestions and see what evolves. I’ll keep you posted!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Early Choice = Engagement & Excitement

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_375784555So it’s November, and it may seem odd to see the title “early choice” in a blog post. It’s not early in the year, and yet for an elementary teacher whose students are blogging, it is.

It takes time to get students used to the blogging format, establish procedures, teach digital citizenship, and truly begin to use the blog purposefully. I’ve been blogging with my 5th graders for a few years now, and there are certain things I always like to do in the first few months of school. But we all know that life throws us curve balls and sometimes you have to improvise.

One lesson I always do on Halloween is based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. After reading the book to the students, they each choose one story from the book to complete. The story starters all lend themselves to heavy fantasy, which is a genre students don’t get much class time to enjoy in terms of writing.

The day after Halloween, I was unexpectedly out of the classroom (but still in the building) and decided to have the students spend their Language Arts time blogging their stories. (In the past, we had only published these on paper.) The excitement was palpable. Several students asked if I was serious. (“Yes.”) More asked if they could work on it from home. (“Yes!”) A few even asked if they could write more than one installment. (“Yes! Yes!”)

As I read through my student’s stories, I saw them using italics, bold print, and different font sizes, colors, and types of font, all for emphasis. These are things that would not be as easy or evident in regular paper or pencil writing:

I was in a dome made of green leaves and flowers. Then I stepped out and looked up. There were tree houses made of sticks, weeds, and bark. I saw little heads poke out of trees and windows. But there was something odd about the place. There was shimmering dust everywhere. And there seemed to be no end. The land seemed to grow bigger, like there was no end to it.

Giving Students a Reason to Be Excited

The ability to easily add emphasis inspired my students to be more creative and I think, in some cases, to write more. I have students who ended their posts with cliffhangers and promises to the reader that more would be coming. Writing in a digital format ensures them an audience and makes them feel their writing is purposeful, which inspires them to write more, even when it is not an assignment.

Moments like this remind me why I love teaching. It’s easy to become bogged down and overwhelmed by all of the demands on our time these days. But seeing how technology can inspire my students and transform the writing process inspires me to constantly push myself to let go a little more, trust my students, and let them fly.

I have a new post-it note at the bottom of my computer screen now: “Build in more choice.” In a child’s school world of “have to,” choice is freedom. Choice is fun. And from this teacher’s perspective, choice just might be the key to getting my students to new heights.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Ending with a WOW

Notes from the Classroom

makennaaddibookA few weeks ago I wrote about giving students choice in end-of-year reading and writing projects, in an attempt to maintain enthusiasm for learning into mid-June, which is a challenge no matter how motivated your learners are. I’d never done this before, but I decided to jump and gave the students a “Purposeful Reading and Writing” assignment.

Students had to design their own project that had to involve both reading and writing at a 5th grade level or higher. They were allowed to work with a partner, in a small group, or alone. I had no idea how or if this was going to fly. Idea sheets were submitted for approval, and then my students were off and running.

For the past two weeks I have monitored progress, given feedback, and watched as students navigated peer, technology, and learning issues–the scope was too broad, they needed more information, they were in over their heads, etc. There were days when I doubted what we were doing.

But last week, on a hot Thursday afternoon, someone walked in my room and said, “Whoa, what’s going on?” I asked what they meant. “Look at them–they are all engaged.” I looked around and realized they were. Without me, without any fun distractions, they were all engaged with their own projects.

It was beautiful.

Students’ Soaring Ambitions

Monday was our peer showcase. Projects were laid out and students were instructed to go around with post-it notes, leaving positive, specific feedback and wonders, which is a nice way to say, “I’m wondering about this and didn’t see it in your project…could you tell me more?” I was (for the most part) incredibly pleased with the results and, in some cases, completely blown away.

loyalopProjects ranged from Google Presentations on the Holocaust to a 175-page book, complete with a companion text of biographies of the characters. There were board games about topics of interest, and there were poetry anthologies. The students were proud and so was I.

This is definitely something I will do again next year. Of course, I will tweak it and have more scaffolds in place to bring up the quality of projects for those students who can’t manage an independent piece on their own.

I learned a lot from the past few weeks, but the most important lesson is this: when students are ready to take on their own learning, when they have the knowledge and tools necessary, and when they are passionate about what they are doing, amazing things can happen.

Happy end of the school year to us!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University.