Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Peer Reviews - More ideas

 I've recently come across some great blog posts with more ideas for peer reviews and editing. I wrote a blog with tips for peer reviews here, but there are many methods out there. I intend to try all three of these.

From The Doc Is In comes this fast-paced, focused, round-robin-style editing. The time allowed seems a little short to me, but that can be easily remedied:


From Teaching the Teacher is this method using Google drive:


Finally, the High School Bits blogs offers one teacher's method of using class discussions and having the whole class review the same few pieces at the same time:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stephen King's Teaching Advice


Since I spent over 20 years as a writer before I started teaching full time, I've read my share of how-to and advice books, most of which I found useless. Imagine my surprise when I found myself  highlighting passage after passage from Stephen King's On Writing. I am not a fan of his novels (although when I was a kid I was home sick one day from school and absolutely devoured Firestarter), but he had the most practical and solid writing advice I'd ever read.

So, when I saw this article in The Atlantic on Stephen King's teaching advice from his years as a high school teacher, I was ready with my highlighter. The article does not disappoint, although I wish it would have been much longer. You can read it here.

My favorite part was when he said:

"It went best for me when I could communicate my own enthusiasm. I can remember teaching Dracula to sophomores and practically screaming, “Look at all the different voices in this book! Stoker’s a ventriloquist! I love that!” I don’t have much use for teachers who “perform,” like they’re onstage, but kids respond to enthusiasm. You can’t command a kid to have fun, but you can make the classroom a place that feels safe, where interesting things happen. I wanted every 50-minute class to feel like half an hour."

I am naturally a reserved person and am not inclined to be a circus clown in front of the class, but I do always try to convey as much enthusiasm as possible, because this is key in keeping students' attention. I once had a student tell me that she had no interest in poetry when she started my class, but that my excitement and enthusiasm for it made her want to come to class, and that she had thoroughly enjoyed the poems we studied. This was a coup, because poetry is not my thing, but I was aware that if I didn't care, I had no chance of getting them interested.

It made me sad when I commented that surely all of her teachers were excited about their topics, and she and other students who were listening chimed in and said no, most of their teachers seemed bored.

There's nothing better than an engaged class. I can see it in their faces, and I can feel the connection. Those are the golden moments, and those are the moments that I'm happy I left writing full time and have a chance every day to share my enthusiasm for writing, literature, and art.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tips for Effective Peer Reviews

Peer reviews of rough drafts can be a valuable tool in the classroom, but they can also be a disaster. Some students are resistant to others reading their work, while other students lack confidence in their critiquing skills. Early in my teaching career, I simply gave students a pep talk and let them critique each others' papers with little direction. This was a mistake, because it fed into both of these problems, and the results were not helpful to the students. What we ended up with was hit-or-miss proofreading rather than big picture critiques. Here are some tips that have led to effective peer reviews in my classroom:

1. Write specific items to look for on the whiteboard, or pass out a handout. These will vary depending on the type of writing, but some sample items from an argumentative research paper might be:
  •    Highlight or underline the thesis statement. Does it contain a clear argument?
  •    Does the author address the counter argument?
  •    Is the introduction engaging? Does it make you want to read the rest of the paper?
  •    Read the introduction and the conclusion together. Do they work together?
  •    Are all the author's points supported by sufficient research
Remind students that they are not proofreading. I encourage students to mark on the drafts, but also to have a conversation with the author, because sometimes they can't fully express their comments on the paper.

2. Require the students to point out the positive aspects of the paper along with what needs to be improved.

3. Encourage writers not to get defensive when receiving the critique. I tell the students that their job is to listen carefully to the critique, then decide whether to make a given change or not. Some students feel obligated to act on every piece of advice they get, but I caution them to retain ownership of their papers, and make judicious decisions.

4. If you have students who are sensitive about sharing their drafts, you can instruct students to bring anonymous drafts, or allow them to choose their own critique groups.

5. Three to four critiques of a draft is a good number. This will allow the writer to see if readers agree on points of improvement, or if there is a difference of opinion.

5. I end the critique with a "Next Step" assignment, where I ask students to list the three most important things they learned about their paper in the critique groups, and what they are going to revise. This allows them to synthesize the information and make better revision decisions.

Regardless of whether the author gets useful advice from the reviewer, the reviewer always benefits by becoming more aware of how to read like a writer, and hopefully picks up some revision ideas for his or her own essay.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Older Kids Clip Art


There is a lot of cute clip art out there for classroom use for the younger grades, but it's hard to find artwork to use for older kids. I complained to my artist daughter loudly and often enough that she started producing more mature clip art for classroom and product use. Using artwork on worksheets and Power Points meant for older kids is tricky - if it's too cutesy they won't like it, but boring doesn't add anything. You also don't want to overdo it. A few well placed pieces are plenty.

I tend to buy clip art, use it once and forget about it, but I keep coming back to these images again and again.

This is her most recent freebie, which you can download here, from her Image Boutique store on TeachersPayTeachers. She has several other freebies which you might want to use for a test run in your classroom.