Sunday, July 31, 2016

Grammar Instruction: "Sticky" Teaching for Transfer

Grammar? Grammar? Grammar?  How do you fit grammar instruction into the workshop model?  How do you teach grammar so it sticks and transfers into their independent writing?  How do you teach grammar so it is engaging?  

When I consult or teach graduate courses, this topic inevitably comes up… whether our focus is on reading or writing.  It certainly isn’t a bad question.  It is a loaded question.  When I work with staff in the area of writing, I always emphasize that students need to understand why writing is important and that their ideas are valued.  I also discuss that writing is a way of thinking - of pushing our thinking and exploring our thinking.  But this post is not about that. I want to give some insights on grammar instruction and resources I have found helpful.  

This will likely be only Part 1 of my ideas on grammar instruction.

First, some questions to ponder:
  • How do I support students’ understanding of grammar as a form of power in school and the world? (Ehrenworth)
  • How do I develop grammar instruction so as not to encroach on workshop, but still make it transferrable?
  • How do I build upon what my students can already do, instead of only looking at what they cannot do?
Next, keep the below pieces in mind as you plan grammar instruction and coach students:
  • Grammar:  Agreed upon usage of language and words and their relationships with each other
  • Code-Switching:  Changing one’s dialect depending on the circumstances or context; the conscious act of alternating between different languages or dialects and knowing when, how and why to do it
  • Syntax: Complexity of sentences and the way they are used and crafted

Question 1: Grammar and Power… What is the connection?
Mary Ehrenworth has a book, The Power of Grammar and she states that “power inhabits the linguistic codes a culture accepts” and that when one has control of grammar, he/she will obtain more access to power.  Ehrenworth elaborates on how we can teach control of language in a way that student voices can become “powerful, disruptive forces”.  This links with my beginning statement that we need to teach students that their voices are important and they should be intentional with how they share their ideas.

Question 2: “Sticky” Teaching- Making Grammar Instruction Transferrable

Our students need to know:
  • We need to teach students that “voice” is composed of word choice, punctuation, and syntax - partly of grammar.
  • Students need to be thinking about grammar before editing. Students need practice constructing knowledge of grammar as a part of what it means to write, specifically in how it is essential to create a voice that engages a reader.
    • Teach grammar throughout your unit of study, rather than at the end before publishing.
    • Teach grammar in all phases of writing process.
Question 3: Building on what my students CAN do…
Be mindful when analyzing student work. All too often, when I work with colleagues, discussions immediately drift towards what the student isn’t doing or “can’t” do.  I encourage you to shift your mindset and as you sift through student writing, first attend to what the student is doing.  Below is a chart that can be used to analyze student work.  I have used this particularly when attending to grammar usage and what I should teach the whole group, small groups, or individuals:

Some ideas for how to implement grammar instruction:
  • Direct Teaching Mini Lesson- Teacher models using a mentor text or her writing and students have an opportunity to practice either in the mentor text or in their writing.  I would recommend having students practice in their writing as often as possible during the active engagement portion of the mini lesson to foster more “stickiness” and transfer of skills.
  • Inquiry Mini Lesson or Centers / Investigation in Writing or Reading Workshop- Have students search for the grammar or convention piece in action.  Students outline where and why the grammar or convention rule is being used:

Photo Credit: Steve Sell, TCRWP Staff Developer
  • Interludes and Extravaganzas
    • Students Investigate, Create, & Teach
      • Songs
      • Picture Book / Story
      • Skit
      • Art
This is just a sliver of what I have to say on the topic.  I will post more on this topic soon. I also have ideas on incorporating vocabulary instruction into the Reading Workshop.  Below are some of the resources I reference often when digging into grammar instruction:
  • Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (
  • The Power of Grammar by Mary Ehrenworth
  • Catching Up On Conventions by Francois and Zonana
  • Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson
  • Units of Study in Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing (Calkins, TCRWP)
Share your "Sticky" teaching in the comments!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Reading Logs

As we think about the upcoming school year and developing and analyzing reading lives with our students, one way to do this is by using reading logs.  I have many thoughts on the effectiveness and use of reading logs. For me, what it truly boils down to is, what is the purpose? Are we using the log consistently to learn about our reading life or is it just a nightly expectation that needs a parent initial for compliance.  Reading logs can be a powerful way to monitor one’s reading life and artifact as to where we have been in our reading.  It can house the adventures we have taken to far away lands in our fiction reading, as well as display our footprints of learning and interests.  

In my classroom, I have used multiple types of reading logs - and for a few reasons:
  1. The purpose occasionally was adjusted from September and into the remainder of the school year.  In the beginning of the school year, we collected “data” on our reading lives to determine when we get the most productive reading done and where.  It helps confirm if we are selecting high interest and just right books.  It also supports the long term and short term goals we set. (book/author/pages/ time in school and out of school reading)
  2. Keeping track of the volume of pages and books read was something we monitored throughout the year.
  3. Having an outlet to share the books we like with peers and the world (Goodreads)
  4. Logs that allow us to reflect and write quick reviews
  5. Logs that support our need to have books “on deck” and our long-term reading plan.

I value teaching students multiple ways to track their reading and multiple purposes to track reading.  This way, throughout the year, they can select the way that works best for them.  I still use a mode to track my reading and share out with my peers what I read. I used to keep a notebook to jot the books I have read with a rating and then in the back, list books that I wanted to read.  I did this my entire life, until I came across the site,  This is the site I use now because I can see what my friends are reading and they can recommend books to me, and vice-versa.

Below are examples of reading logs I have used myself and with students: