Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reading + Writing + Speaking + Listening = Connections. . .for students, too

We know that a lot of kids are very good at posting the most extraordinary details of their lives through social media. We also know they rarely engage in actual connections through social media (No, clicking the "Like" button is not building a connection.)

We know that reading skills contribute to writing skills, and vice versa. One of my favorite activities for my freshmen English students was a voices activity. Note it was my favorite; I'm not sure they were too crazy about it, but they did learn something from it.

They picked an event or experience, any event or experience. They had to be very focused about what they wanted to say about that event or experience so no long-winded exposition. Short, to the point. Yep, the activity was already hard.

Once they had that event or experience draft as complete as I needed it to be for this activity, they got to rewrite it. They rewrote that same event or experience for three different audiences: younger sibling, grandparent, best friend, brand new friend, church elder, boss, best friend's parent, international pen pal. It didn't matter to me who the audiences were as long as the three were different.

As they rewrote for each of those audiences, they realized (nope, I didn't tell them) they had to make choices about words, sentence structure, and even details. They realized how neutral that first version was as they really considered me to be their audience--and then they discovered how bland and dry their writing could be. Bonus for me, and for them.

After they rewrote, they shared their original texts with their colleagues and read at least one of their audience-specific texts aloud. They didn't say anything about the audience before they started reading their texts so their colleagues had to listen carefully and try to discern the probable audience based on word choice, sentence structure, etc. And their colleagues had to be able to explain why they thought the text was written for a particular audience. Texts for younger children were fairly easy to figure out as were texts were best friends, but the listeners still had to identify how the knew anything about the characteristics of the audience.

The Anchor Standards for Writing for K-5 and 6-12 are the same. You'll note there are sections to group like standards. What is different for K-5 and 6-12 is the text in the italics to the right of the standards themselves: range and content.

The Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening are also the same for K-5 and for 6-12. Again, the difference is the range and content in the italicized text to the right of the standards.

What do the range and content represent? Learning progressions. As students get more competent with and confident in their skills, they should be able to progress to more complex tasks.

Remember that last component of text complexity? Reader and task? And that the complexity is generated by the task assigned.

Not too long ago I was asked if I thought teachers should be at grade level only or if they should meet vertically. I said "yes." Yes, teachers need to meet at grade level. Not so they are doing the exact same thing at the same time in the classroom--they have different teaching styles and their kids have different learning styles--but so they can discuss strategies they've tried, what worked and what didn't and have some collaborative, connected conversation about possible changes to implement, among other things. I could spend more time on grade level meetings and PLCs, but that's off-topic.

The value of what's known as "vertical articulation" is also significant. How great it would be if teachers could meet periodically at least with the teachers who teach the grade above and below them. That would give teachers the opportunity to collaborate, and connect, at least about learning progressions, expectations, and more. The objective is to celebrate the kids who are doing well at grade level and perhaps even working above grade level as well as brainstorm about the kids who are struggling. I could spent more time on those meetings as well, but, again, off-topic.

The overall point is this: any time a teacher gives a reading assignment, that teacher should consider the possibilities for students to exercise, explore, develop, hone, or just plain old practice their writing, speaking, and listening skills. The more students experience the interconnectivity of those communications skills, the more students understand the value of intellectual connection and exchange, the more likely they are to learn how to make connections, personal and otherwise.

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