Moving Beyond the Personal Narrative

Narrative writing.  What is it?  From the perspective of an elementary school teacher, it’s the first genre of writing you teach of the school year.  And it’s always the personal narrative.  Students brainstorm and write about their trips to Disneyland, the beach, or playing video games for hours on end.  While students should write about what the know and experience, a narrative is an account of events, either real or fictitious.  The Anchor Standard for Writing expects students to “write narratives to convey real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.”  The word “imagined” does not appear in a grade level specific standard until third grade, but that does not mean that you ignore children’s imaginations in grades K-2.

I would push you to teach children the art of storytelling beyond the personal narrative.  Why?  Let’s think about advertising.  The most memorable commercials are the ones that tell a story, whether it that makes you laugh, cry, or cringe.  But it’s the advertisers job to sell a product, right?  Some commercials use gimmicks, but storytelling is an effective communication tool.

Here are some tips for thinking beyond the personal narrative:

1.  Start with a concrete object.  In her book Making Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading, Tanny McGregor has a lesson on inferencing in which students look at a shoe and answer the question, “Who wears this shoe?”  Based on physical evidence, the students can infer who wears it (e.g., a gardener wears the scuffed, faded brown boot).   I would take the lesson a step further and tell a story from the perspective of the person wearing the shoe.  Perhaps the gardener found a secret portal in the garden that took him to another world.  Let the students’ imaginations drive the storytelling.  As the teacher, you still teach the techniques of effective storytelling such as adding sequencing events, descriptive details, using quotations, etc.

2.  Use a painting or an illustration in a picture book, with the words covered up.  Have a discussion about the painting.  For example:

This is the painting “The Circus” by Georges Seurat.  Ask the students, “What is going in the painting?  How do you know?”  Chart the “characters” that they see in the picture.  Once the class has had a discussion on what is going on at this current moment, students can then select a character and talk about what happened before and after.  Students can create a Flow Map to show the sequence of events, and let the writing begin.

3.  Primary sources are a great tool for storytelling.  A primary source can be an object, photograph, diary entry, newspaper article, or anything from the time period that you are studying.  Archaeologists analyze artifacts they find and try to piece together a story with the remains.  Students can think like archaeologists and create a story about the primary source  For example, something as simple as the remains of a plate from the colonial era.  Ask students questions such as, “Who would eat from this plate?  Why was it broken or abandoned?  What could have happened to the owner of this plate?  What was going on at that time?”

Students can write a story from the perspective of the owner of the plate.  A plate is just a plate until students begin to ask questions, then it becomes a key to the unlocking the past, and the pen for their story.

What have you done to move your students beyond the personal narrative?  Please post your ideas below.

Mathew Needleman’s note:  This post was written by Susan Obuchi.  She is a Elementary Common Core Facilitator in English Language Arts and a National Board Certified Teacher.  I hesitate to call her a guest blogger.  If this goes well you may see some additional posts related to English Language Arts posted here.

iOS App Recommendations for Literacy

Many fun party conversations have started by whipping out a smartphone and sharing the latest and coolest apps.  However, in educational settings we continually need to refocus the discussion around choosing apps to meet our instructional objectives rather than the other way around.

About a year ago, I published a list of all the apps I installed on our school’s iPads.  I still like that list, however, there are a number of drill-and-kill type apps that see occasional use in  my classroom as well as those that require higher-level thinking and student creation which I use more often.  I wanted to give our teachers options so I gave them tons of apps.  However, my personal toolkit is much smaller.  Here are my recommendations based around instructional needs in the area of literacy.  The specific apps I recommend don’t matter so much as how we they are used in the classroom:

Fluency

Any voice recorder from the free and simple, Audio Memos to the pricier and more advanced, Garageband, can be used to have students record themselves reading.  Data from Escondido Unified which used iPods and Voice Recorders with English Language Learners (back before iPhones and iPads existed) consistently shows that students showed growth.  The key is having students record and then listen to themselves reading so that they hear the mistakes they don’t hear when they’re focused on decoding.

I’ve used Reader’s Theater in my own classroom (find free printable reader’s theater here or see our class reader’s theater movie, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse).  However, you can also use any passages that might target certain spelling patterns or sounds students are working on.

Writing

I like simple.  StoryKit is a free iPhone app that works on the iPad and allows students to write, record their voice, add a photo, or draw on a page resembling kindergarten writing paper.  If you want to publish a whole book from the iPad, the $5 Book Creator is a great option.  Apple’s free desktop app, iBooks Author is even better but it requires both an iPad and an updated Mac desktop or laptop.  With iBooks Author you create the book on your computer and preview it on the iPad.  You can easily import Keynote and Pages files into your final product.   When you’re ready for multimedia, iMovie is a great way to engage even the most unmotivated writers in writing something that will include audio, visuals and an audience.

Apps like Toontastic and PuppetPals are also fun.  However, be careful, Toontastic teaches story crafting via a beginning, middle, and end structure.  If you’re a fan of Lucy Caulkins writer’s workshop and the notion of expanding a single moment with details to make it something bigger rather than structuring a bare bones story sequentially, you will might not be happy with an app that would set you back to an outdated way of teaching writing even if it’s more fun.

Learning Letter Sounds

Apps like the above mentioned Storykit can be used to have students make a book of letter sounds by taking pictures of things that begin with the sound /p/ for example.  Student Tommy would end up with a page with photos of pencils, pictures, paint, and paintbrushes and then record his voice making the sound /p/ on the page.   I know that you can find apps that give students the letter sounds while students passively listen but I’m much more in favor of having students create their own books with the sound in it.  I suspect the learning is more internalized.

What other areas of student early literacy need do you notice?

 

 

 

Fluency Timer Now Available for iPad/iPod/iPhone

My desktop app, Fluency Timer, is now available for the iOS (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches). The app provides an adjustable timer with integrated voice recording to allow teachers, parents, and students to easily record student fluency readings. It’s designed simply so that even primary age students can use the app to record themselves reading.

Research has shown that having students listen to themselves reading increases reading fluency, particularly for English Language Learners.  While there are many capable voice recorders, I wanted an app that would stop after a predetermined amount of time and not go on forever.  Having it stop on its own means that I can focus on listening to students reading and not have to keep an eye on the clock.  Teachers can use the app with students or set it up as an instant center activity.

By recording fluency readings, teachers can review them for patterns of errors and play them back for students, parents, and colleagues.

Download the pro version to eliminate advertisements and add the ability to transfer multiple recordings to your desktop:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fluency-timer-pro/id519937066?mt=8

The app allows you to individually e-mail recordings.  The length of the timer can be adjusted.

More information about the app and the different versions is available at fluency timer.net

First Day of School Activities

excerpted from Classroom Management for Teachers.com

First Day of School Activities

Lots of First Day Activities from Cape Brenton Victoria School Board

First Day of School Activities by Katie Hallum

First Days of School Script for Teachers by Katie Hallum

Back to School Preparation Checklist and Month by Month Schedule for First Grade by Terry Analore

Everybody Needs A Rock Activity by Jan Tappan

Activities for First Day by Scholastic

Interest Inventory for getting to know your students

Nine Questions to Ask Students on First Day of School by Elona Hartes

101 Things to Do on the First Day of School

Math Activities for the Beginning of the Year

Article: Reviewing the Steps to Take Before Starting the Year

Ice Breakers

Kathy Schrock’s First Day Activities/Ice Breakers

Teachnology Ice Breakers

Ice Breaker List

Ice Breakers and Warm Ups

Welcome Letters

These can be adapted for any grade level and were created using Printshop:

First Grade

Second Grade (Spanish/English)

More sample Letters from Scholastic

First Day of School Read Alouds

First Day of School Books

Also Worth Reading

Things to do before starting year of Open Court Reading

Back to School, It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Classroom Management Articles

Have a great year if you haven’t started already!

Civil War Links


Here are links for teaching about the Civil War.  Thank you to Dionne Hemphill for the latest additions to the list.
Maps of the Civil War – Library of Congress

Thousands of Civil War Photographs

The Civil War Home Page

Civil War Free Clip Art

Civil War Links

Civil War Internet Paths to Explore

Half Slave and Half Free

Carrying the Running-Aways

So I Became a Soldier

Charley Skedaddle

Historic Places Connected with Abraham Lincoln

Follow the Drinking Gourd

The History Place presents Abraham Lincoln

The Underground Railroad @ nationalgeographic.com

Harriet Tubman fantastic site

History Lessons for English Language Learners

Battle Hymn of the Republic

If You Were President Game

Teaching the Civil War with Technology

Underground Railroad Research Site

Interactive Underground Railroad Games

National Geographic

Scholastic

Pathways to Freedom

Find other resources for this unit here.

Revolutionary War Links

Here are resources I’ve compiled for teaching the American Revolution/Revolutionary War.  Thank you to Dionne Hemphill for the latest additions to the list.

The Road to Revolution – Game

Lesson Plans for Teaching (SCORE)

The American Revolution – Education World

Constitution Day Activities

Natural History Museum – Making a New Nation

Timeline of American Revolution

The American Revolution

The Declaration of Independence

Making of the Constitution

Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution Graphic Organizer

Kids in the House House of Representatives Site for Kids

History and Geography

History Lessons for English Language Learners

If You Were President Game

Tasks Related to American Revolution

Revolutionary War Biographies

Biographies of Women in War

Virtual Marching Tour of the Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War Online Resource

Kids Page at Valley Forge

Find other resources for this unit here.

Create Your Own Campaign Ad

Now your students have a chance to create their own campaign ad for their presidential bid thanks to the National Constitution Center.  Due to the tongue in cheek nature of the campaign commercial that results this is probably most appropriate for older students like fifth grade to middle school.

Visit Ad-o-Matic here.

Students take a picture of themselves or upload a photo, choose a party, pick issues that are important to them and then the site does the rest. It does not let you choose your policy. In other words, I say I care about the environment and the site says I want to install air fresheners in buildings.

Mac users may need to fine-tune the settings to get their built in iSight camera to be recognized but otherwise this was really easy to make.  To get past the novelty and result in some real learning, you’ll need to discuss the issues in greater depth.

Here’s the commercial I created…

Open Court in the Special Education Classroom

This question comes frequently from special education classrooms who are teaching the Open Court Reading Program…

I have a classroom of fifth graders reading at a first grade level.  Can’t I just teach my fifth graders the first grade curriculum?

While fifth grade students may not be able to read, they can certainly comprehend, are curious, and need access to the content contained in the fifth grade curriculum as much as they need to know how to read.  Maybe they can’t read but they’re not babies.

If you’re teaching fifth graders the first grade curriculum (which includes things like we take a boat to travel somewhere on the water) your students are falling behind not only in reading but also in content knowledge.  You are putting your students at a severe disadvantage in school as well as life.

That said, it’s difficult teaching a program that’s rigorous to students who are far behind.  However, program components like the workbook, the reading anthology, and word knowledge are all done whole group.  You are providing exposure to concepts that students won’t master yet but they will need.   I would hope that in special education your pacing can be modified to allow a longer period of time to work on the same units.  Nevertheless, just like in the regular ed classroom, your differentiation comes from your independent work time/workshop period.  That is when you meet with small groups, pre-teach, reteach, and support students in ways that are specific to them.  During that time, if you want to bring in a first grade decoable book to reteach the /i/ sound then feel free…although you might do better to bring in some authentic literature in that time to not only reteach skills but also support students’ appreciation of literature.

For more on Special Education, read Special 2 Me, written by a special education teacher who teaches Open Court, or Teachers At Risk, written by an always inspiring Canadian educator.

NPR Article: Children’s Play Co-opted

NPR reports on the commercialization of children’s play which has shifted in the second half of the twentieth century from an emphasis on activities towards and emphasis on specific toys and rules.

“(in the first half of the century) [Children] improvised their own play; they regulated their play; they made up their own rules…but in the second half of the 20th century…play changed radically.  instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts…a trend whih begins to shrink the size of children’s imaginative space.”

The damage is that researches have seen a decrease in children’s self regulation, an ability to “control their emotions, and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.”

“Today’s 5-year-olds [are] acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago.”

I’ve written previously about allowing children to play whenever possible, even integrating that into your Independent Work Time and existing curriculum.  For teachers of the Open Court Reading Program, I beg you to please implement independent work time and to allow that to be a time when students make some of their own choices and begin to self-regulate their own behavior.  It’s a little more chaotic at first but by investing time in training you reap dividends later.  By moving students from center to center based on a rotation, you further take away from students opportunities to make decisions about their own learning.

We all want students to be responsible but do we give them chances to learn responsibilty?  Do we give them changes to exhibit creativity and problem-solving in our classrooms?