Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing great sentences using brace maps

Recently, I noticed that my first graders were writing really simple sentences. Part of me was ECSTATIC. What? They were actually writing real sentences with capital letters and end marks. Well, I'll be.....

But then, I started thinking about how much better they could be with a little more effort on my part. I began a series of mini lessons where I explicitly taught strategies for forming better sentences. I concluded that they weren't writing great sentences because I hadn't taught them how.

My first priority, even before adding descriptive words, was making sure that the sentence made sense and said everything it needed to say. So often my students would write a sentence and I'd be left wondering or needing to ask a question.

I opened the first mini lesson with a Brace Map on the board. The Brace Map, one of the eight Thinking Maps, is used to describe part to whole relationships and my students are well versed in using it. On the left hand side I had a sentence strip with the sentence Last week Owen Q. worked hard at school because he loves math. As a class we read through the sentence a few times. Next, we turned our attention to the part side. The Brace Map was divided into 5 parts -- who, did what, when, where, and why. Finally, students helped me break apart the sentence and place them into the correct parts. We literally cut apart the whole sentence and placed each section into it's correct part. We repeated this model for the next 2 days using different sentences.

On the fourth day, we left the carpet and began doing some guided seat work using the same principals from the three days prior. I found that it helped to have students cross off the part in the complete sentence (on the whole side) immediately after they found where to put it on the part side.

If you'd like to try this out in your own classroom here is the freebie from my TPT store. I've left it so you can easily edit my sentences. Also, the last page has lines on the whole side so students can try writing their own sentence. You can even have them practice going back the other way and have students create the whole sentence from the different parts you give them, or that you have them create.

Happy writing!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

RTI in Anchorage

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Alaska RTI Conference: RTI and the New Standards conference on Saturday, January 25th and Sunday, January 26th. Along with the keynote address, I attended Shelby Skaanes’ session entitled Intervention Design for Literacy, Anita Archer’s session called Writing Foundation Skills, and Melissa Linton and Michael Hanson’s session entitled Quality Tier 1 Instruction Using the Danielson Framework as a Professional Growth Model.  
My biggest takeaway from the weekend conference, besides the 3 pounds I gained from delicious wine and fabulous food, came from Anita Archer's session.  Specific attention was paid to handwriting and typing, spelling, and sentence formation. With research to back it up, Archer argued that students must master these basic skills in order to gain true fluency in their writing. I was really intrigued on her suggestions and discussion around spelling. 
       So, this week in spelling we tried something new. I did not introduce the spelling pattern/rule for the week on Monday morning and walk students through the list word by word like I usually do. Instead, I gave, what we call in our classroom a, low stakes spelling pre-test. In this case, not only was it a low-stakes spelling pre-test, but it was also completely blind -- meaning they had no clue what words I was going to call out or what pattern they were going to fall under. (In my class low-stakes tasks mean DON'T PANIC-- this is NOT a grade, it is just for you!) Before ever having seen the word list, I called out the first word and then asked the students to try and spell the word. Next, we all put our pencils down and I immediately wrote the correct spelling on the projector. Students then did one of two things. If they got the word correct, they could either do nothing, put a little smiley, or add a check. If they missed the word they simply crossed it out and wrote the correct spelling next to it. It was NO BIG DEAL to miss the word. In fact, I modeled missing several words and sounding them out how I thought they sounded. There was NO erasing!

A couple of really cool things happened:
  1. Students were super engaged with every word because we corrected each word right after we tried it. 
  2. Students started guessing the pattern!!! This week there were actually two patterns which makes that even more impressive. 
  3. We did the sight words just for fun --- and they loved these challenge words! I can tell it really helped with their ability to read them all week long in the stories we read.  

Here is my modeled example. One of my biggest priorities was making sure my students knew how to cross out their words, rather than erase and rewrite.

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