Tag Archives: inquiry

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“Level Up” your Teaching with Newsela’s Free Features

So you’ve started using Newsela, but you haven’t done much besides having students access articles and possibly taking quizzes. I’ll offer some new ways you could use Newsela to “level up” implementation in your classroom. This post is the first in a series of three short posts, and it focuses on ideas for the free version of Newsela than any teacher can use.

  1. Highlight Purposefully as a Reading and Research Strategy

Newsela comes equipped with a highlighting feature. Students can use up to four colors to code text in different ways. For example, last year I had 9th grade English students participate in an inquiry unit called “The Grown-up Project.” Students were tasked at reading literary and informational texts for evidence that would answer the following compelling question: “What primarily causes someone to grow up: the aging process, external events, or personal choices?” For the informational texts, students selected articles from a Newsela text set that I created, looking for evidence to answer the question. I assigned students to use a different highlighting color for each of the possible types of evidence as well as the fourth color to highlight the quote they believed was most important in the article.

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2. Differentiated Reading Groups

One of the main reasons I love Newsela is that each text has a Lexile selector that allows you to differentiate readability at five levels. It is an amazing tool to differentiate with dignity.  If your students have access to devices, that can very easily select the levels for themselves. However, if you don’t have devices, you can print articles on whatever level you choose. One way to use this feature is creating differentiated reading groups.

Students can be divided into groups where each group reads a different article under a the same topic or theme. However, each group’s article can be leveled differently based upon the current proficiencies of that certain group (obviously, the teacher would need to create groups for this to work well). As an example, my colleague Lily, a biology teacher, created a genetics text set, where each student group read about a selective breeding and genetically modified organisms. Each article was leveled differently based upon the current proficiencies of the group. Then, a member of each group jigsawed with members from other groups in order to share information about their articles. All of the students were on equal playing field in regards to content, even if they had texts at different Lexile levels. By the way, since each group has a different article, it is not obvious that they have different readabilities. 

If you want to hear about any of these strategies in depth, access the Newsela “Celebrate the Educator” webinar in which I shared the 6 strategies for “leveling up” with Newsela.  

What are some interesting ways that you are using the free version of Newsela with your students?

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The Vocab Games: Dinner Party

Dinner party is a fun game that you can use to expand vocabulary. The game develops students’ word consciousness by having them explore the morphological patterns between words.  Morphology, or teaching students to recognize the spelling-meaning connection of roots and affixes, has been proven to be enhance students’ vocabulary acquisition more effectively than using context clues alone.

Here is how you play Dinner Party.

First, create sets of cards with words that feature the target morpheme.  For example, one set might  focus on the root cand:  candidincandescentcandle, and candidate.  Another set could have pend, pens words:  pendantpensive, appendage, and impendingWords Their Way is a great source, but you can also find many sets by just Googling “words with ______ root.”  Make sure that you have at least one card for each of your students.

Here is a photo from one set I created for a recent game.  It featured nat, which means “birth.”

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Now that you have all of the cards, simply shuffle them all together.  You will hand each of your students a card, and you will ask that they find “guests” who have similar cards to their own.  Once students begin to find one another, they are to sit down for their “dinner party.” They will then discuss what their words have in common.  This discussion should lead to students understanding the meaning of the root.  In addition, they begin to see how the root has literal meanings in some words and figurative meanings in others.

One of the best aspects of Dinner Party is that it is inquiry-based. Students discover meaning by connecting the new words to words they already know. In addition, it provides students with opportunities to move, which can increase engagement. Dinner Party can be a short activity, or it can be expanded upon by reshuffling the cards and playing again or by students sharing and teaching their word groups to the class.

 

 

 

Mentor Texts and the NC Graduation Project

Recently, a friend and colleague who teaches 12th grade English approached me about a troubling situation.  Her students had turned in drafts of their research papers for the NC Graduation Project, and she had provided feedback to all of them on how to move forward.  One particular student became upset.  He said that he had worked really hard on his project, and he could not believe all the corrections he must make.

The teacher took what he said to heart.  She knew that he had put a lot of effort in to his paper, but it was so far from her expectations.  As an instructional coach, I know I don’t always have the answers, but I understand the power of questions.  After a few questions, I asked the one that led to our “A-ha” moment:  “Have students ever seen a completed research paper for graduation project?”  Well, they hadn’t.

This leads me to the power of using mentor texts for teaching writing.  A “mentor text” is simply a finished example of a particular genre or style of writing.  If you would like to study mentor texts more deeply, you can always check out the work of teacher/author Kelly Gallagher who has written extensively on them.  I have learned much about mentor texts from my colleague, middle school instructional coach Kendra Jarvis (@KCameronJarvis).

The teacher and I decided to collaborate by introducing the research paper when she had a new class of students during the second semester.  We asked former student authors for permission to use their completed graduation project papers for instruction.  They agreed.  We did remove their names and replaced them with fun pseudonyms.  The paper I used for the lesson I taught was on the health benefits of martial arts and written by Tony Stark.  The paper met the classroom teacher’s requirements, but it still had room for improvement.

Here is what happened in the lesson:

1.  Real Collaborative Inquiry

Instead of giving students a rubric for evaluating the paper at first or telling them what I thought about it, I asked them to work with a class mate to find (1) what was effective, (2) what recommendations they would they to the writer, and (3) what questions they had.  Students had the option of collecting their thoughts on 3-column charts or through text codes and annotations (E-effective, R-recommendations, ?-Questions).  Many students raised good questions about the format of in-text citations, and how often/where they should be used.  Some discussed ways the author could have varied his sentences after noticing a series of sentences beginning “Karate is…Karate is…Karate is….”  In addition students praised the well-crafted first paragraph, understanding that the author clearly stated his thesis and prepared the reader for the information in the paper.   Organization was also a strength.

2.  Beginning with the End in Mind

Early in the lesson, I asked the students, who have all heard about the impending graduation project since 9th grade, “Have you ever seen a finished graduation project paper?”  Not a single one had.  As Stephen Covey said, highly effective people begin with the end in mind.  These students had no idea of how the end of this long research road would look.  After reading and discussing the mentor text, I literally saw the students’ stress diminish.  They all said that they believed that they could accomplish their own papers, now that they had seen a finished one.

3. Formative Assessment Increasing Knowledge and Motivation

Once students had seen a finished paper, they became more motivated to ask questions about the process.  Because we were not focused on what was “right”, students’ questioning and ideas flowed in a safe, collaborative learning environment, where even the teachers were questioning and learning from students.  Instead of beginning with a barrage of lessons about correct citations, students first learned the purpose of citations.  Then, their questions drove the instruction.  Their motivation increased because they were now the ones steering the learning.  Later, I shared the NC Graduation Project Paper Rubric with students.  I asked them to make note of where they had noticed effective writing that the rubric also valued.  I also asked them to mark elements we hadn’t discussed.  Areas we missed became the topics of future lessons because students and the classroom teacher now understood that those areas would be their “blind spots” in the writing process.