Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writing improvements

Cold War Studies- links to worksheets
My students just finished a unit on WWII and a subunit on the use of the atomic bomb. While my colleagues were able to rush forward into another large and content rich unit on Cold War I chose to slow down the pace and let students alleviate concerns developed about nuclear war, unfinished studies of Japan's role in Korea and interest about Korea resulting from recent inflammatory rhetoric in the news. North Korea seems on the verge of attack so knowledge of what we don't understand seems relevant.
Combined with a need to improve writing skills, vocabulary and reading, my hands are full. And I need to cater to the specific needs of these students. Their needs and interests are different from students I taught last year. When to find the time? Aha! April break. Many mumble that teachers have more breaks than other professions. But I concur that many waking hours, dreams and strolls on a beach are cut short by my mad scramble to write down ideas, read more content or catch up on all the afore mentioned tasks.

Students can write paragraphs, sentences and a thesis. But what they lack is style. I literally dusted off a binder of writing strategies from a Kansas University, Center for Research course.

I reread the binder until I had an idea for one goal based on assessment. Using the framework for writing a paragraph I narrowed a strategy to topic sentences. Three types, general, clueing or detail. And clincher.
Topic- introduces a main idea, usually the first sentences.
Clincher- last sentence, names the main idea and makes a reader think about the topic, or lists an order for thinking about the topic.
Clueing or detail- shows a relationship between the main topic and one specific fact. Contains a transition word. (Many, several, #, steps, components, features, causes, sources, functions, similar, assortment)

I found a clueing word chart to hang on my wall and to hand out to students. Next year I'll make binders, one for each desk with strategies and organizers in them instead of sending them home. Some students will keep them, some will not. This way, the binders are always ready. A math colleague does something similar with positive results. He attaches pens to his desk to encourage edits and class work.

Modeling and practice. I had to rewrite some lessons and take samples from my textbook.
The program offers modeling lessons. The first has students read five sample list sentences, students choose one as the topic sentence. This is a good way to have students read facts about the Cold War, gain familiarity without having to teach the content. Introduce the content without it being a tedious focus. Focus is in analysis. A second practice is to give students a topic, a list of details and then the assignment is to write a general or clincher or clueing sentence. I think this will be a warm up activity for my first five minutes of class the second days. It is also a good review, formative assessment. And I could assign it as an exit ticket, giving each student their own quick list. A third lesson would be to collect the sentences, rewrite or print them and have students edit the anonymous collection on a third or fourth day. A decoding activity.

Our Cold War studies begin again a day after a week long break. Before break I used class time on Friday to have students do push-ups as:

  1. a soviet (each contributing the most they can to share equally in a set profit)  
  2. a free market (each group or individual in competition with one another) 
  3. and tug of war/ Cold War. As a warm up first five, I want to understand what they remember about communism. I learned from Susan Lenski's research that it helps to create lessons that " build positive attitudes toward content material while communicating to students that I value their thoughts and opinions." (25)

Lenski's opinionaire/ questionaire is a format for individuals or pairs,  or as a class for a formative review. Students reuse this checklist later to write detailed topic sentences.
(I reread the textbook for definitions of any page that mentioned communism. I discovered that the textbook never gave a clear definition of communism and therefore never repeated that definition in regards to its changes and context in different regions of the world throughout time.)

This unit required me to embed rich content into spelling and vocab strategies. I typed up content notes in a cause/effect worksheet. Each content section required students to write one concluding clincher sentence. I also created a word jumble. Students will sort events, people, into either the category of Red Scare or Cold War.
Scavenger Hunts 
Our library has a plethora of resources that students seldom seek.  I worked with the library to create individual slips for students that sent them to use the tools in the database to then find books in various locations of the library and the dewey decimal system.  I then created a worksheet of scavenger hunt questions that were facts dug from the books.  Students only had to answer 5 of the questions relating to Cold War studies or could evaluate one book.  Several students did become engaged or drawn to picture books, intense studies and primary resources.  A biography of McCarthy was a big hit. Knowing where resources helped prep students for their culminating activty. They each were to create an informative short text to hang in the hallway for students. The text addressed one question they had about the Cold War or North Korea to be answered in narrow and broad terms, a skill required in the Common Core

In the end, students will have Cold War content. They will address and present answers to Short Answer questions as a Common Core skill and they will have several meaningful contacts with their vocabulary terms. We will see how it turns out!

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