Writers Workshop Team

App #4 of “10 Apps to Countdown Season”

App #4:  “I hate Google Docs!” stated a student in an advanced writing class.  The teacher being stunned by this emphatic state turned my way with a “now what!” look.  After probing, it became clear that this writer liked the thesaurus dictionary in MSWord.  A quick introduction to online visual dictionaries opened a whole different world not only to the group but also for the teacher in expanding to other classes. Here are two of my favourites:


Lexipedia provides a visual display connection of words (nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and relationships fuzzynyns, synonyms, antonyms).  Hovering over the term offers a definition.  More importantly, this tool has an embedded audio option of the text. You can see a definite plus for those students who need this type of support.




Visuwords, another online visual dictionary uses colours and a variety of line shapes to define relationships  and connections much like a concept map. Type a word in the box and see the connected terms come alive.




What are your favourite tools for expanding vocabulary in writing?

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A Year of Discovery

It’s June and I’m really not sure what happened to this year.  The ten months prior have whizzed by and here we are again.  I wanted to take this moment to share some reflections of the year and try to put things into perspective.

writing speech


Our Writers Workshop folks grappled with ideas related not only to what it means to be a writer but also what it means to be a writer on digital spaces.  Perhaps this arena requires a different set of skills, a different strategy to communication. Thank you to those who took the steps to question and ponder, to test the waters with our Google Apps for Education and to discover how this online environment allows for flexibility, choice, and deeper dialogue. We all grew from the journey.

blog-worldThis year we saw more teachers and administrators enter the realm of blogging or some kind of web presence.  Some started with a desire to share exciting events and learning in the school, others took up the challenge of using the space for their students to create their digital voice and footprint on the world.  Class accounts provided opportunities for these voices to grow in crafting their communication to wider audiences. How exciting for us to watch this growth over the year. Digital footprint portfolios!

online-writing-communityWhat happens if we offered a dedicated laptop and projector to a teacher to develop an inquiry idea? I can say that wonderful sparks happened.  In one class I observed such engagement and “shining eyes” (Benjamin Zander’s words) that I was blown away by the focused level of dialogue as students discussed their work.  Thank you for showing determination, persistence and purposeful actions to deepen practices.

balancing rocksWhat if you asked a group of secondary teachers to reach high and envision big! You get an inquiry team regardless of subject, who dreams big, reaches big and actions big. This small group from across multiple schools dove into strategies like standards-based assessment or flip classroom or refining questioning, all through seamless use of technologies.  Little did I know that excitement from this group meant that they were driven to share not only in their schools but to share their discoveries by rotating meetups at most of the secondaries where everyone was invited to drop in. What I took away from each of these added sessions was the power of collaborative conversation; conversation that started with honest sharing experiences (with all its bumps) and circled with audiences asking questions and challenging the notions. Back and forth until clarity was reached and what we thought we knew to be true of these strategies and environments was worked and reworked.  What I learned was the courage it took for these teachers to “risk big” not only privately but publicly in front of their colleagues.  In doing so, they shared the greatest gift, the gift of possibility.

headset_icon2Our Fast ForWord teams saw a boost and challenge in the delivery of this Tier 3 intervention program.  The move to an online environment meant that more schools were added, more students were included.  Teaching teams were challenged with a new approach in supporting reading achievement and student motivation each time we met as a group and during site visits. It was yet another humbling experience to watch the dedication and intense energy of this group of educators as they supported their students. One student stated “all I ever want is to learn to read”.  He came extra early to school to make sure he could get in his session. After years of struggle, he is well on his way. But more than anything it was the connection of a teacher who believed he could.

These are only a small number of the projects we were so privileged to be a part of the learning.  I truly believe  that what we lived was an experience in how we view the world, to live into the possibility, and grow beyond what we imagined.  We found champions who were there in our corners to bounce ideas, to challenge our thinking and to help us “dare greatly“.  As another year comes to a close, I leave you with Rita Pierson who spoke at TED – “Every Kid Needs a Champion”.
THANK YOU for being the champions of our students.

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Why blog?  Your current process of emailing parents  or sending written notices home works just fine! Why change you ask.  What makes blogging so unique? Blogging accomplishes many goals that cannot be accomplished as well as email, paper notices or student planner comments.


Yes, blogging is an easy way to share homework and expectations for projects and classroom rules/beliefs.  What crystallizes is the ability of a blog to flip literacy on its head! We invite parents and the world into our classroom to connect with our work world, to help students further understanding of the global world, to engage in threaded conversation.  It is a place to reflect and extend our thinking processes over time; to develop our voice with authentic problems and issues; to explore and create our own.  Imagine inviting an author to respond to your students or a scientist to engage in questions, or students reporting out their learning knowing that the world is hearing them…

At the heart of blogging is literacy! Yes, to be great bloggers, students must read, read, read.  Then analyze and synthesize to rework ideas.  This sounds a lot like your reading lessons – that’s exactly what it is (authentic focused reading comprehension).  Consider communication – writing (include oral language – early primaries can audio record) that is targeted to a wider audience than just the teacher.  Imagine a student with grandparents living in other cities – a window of inclusion is opened for them…

Writing quality comments or posts takes scaffolding.  Like writing workshop lessons, blogging needs modeling to write powerful posts. [Think of all those comments you see: “I like your blog!” or “LOL cool!”].  A blog conversation can be used as a rich learning experience; one that begins with high quality commenting that is beyond beginning blurbs…   The resulting threaded discussions can offer an increased level of writing rehearsal.   We’ve found that more students (even reluctant writers) engage in this platform than in others due in part to the integrative nature of online tools.

If you’re using sd41 blogs, we can import whole classes to your blog.  Ask us how.

Informed Choices for Writing Workshop

Even though you may love Writers Workshop, the challenge comes in keeping track of all the confer/revision comments for planning purposes.  We know that immediate feedback, specific and targeted will support our students’ approximation of great writing.  How do you keep your ongoing comments on students? (I used to use post-it notes – hundreds of post-its.)  How do you create target groups to differentiate lessons?   Google Forms allows the ability to gather, collate and analyze information, set the stage for targeting mini-lessons, as well as provide a running record of growth for each student. This can be accessed   by any computer, mobile device (ipad, iphone…).

Here is my version of a working form based on our BC  Performance Standards (Informal Writing).

The data populates into a spreadsheet; each column can be sorted so you can group your teaching points.  Note that the Observation column is using ‘standards based grading’ [Mastery, Progressing, Starting, No evidence] rather than a numeric system. (More on this later in another post) Hover your mouse over the Observation column, right click and click Sort.  Data will be grouped by M, P, S, N – an easy way to see new groups of students for mini-lessons.

This should be called informative assessment”!  Imagine how teaching might change with this type of immediate information at your fingertips.  How are you organizing your comments? Would love to hear from you – drop a thought in the comment box.

Why Write?

Made with: http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/make-your-own/comic-strip-maker

Sometimes a picture says it all…

While using ComicLife is a powerful tool to create comics, sometimes what’s required is a tool that has its own built in media library.  There are many out on the web to choose.  The one above is from LearnEnglishKids by the British Council. A range of panels, backgrounds, characters and bubbles are provided for you to select.  No registration is needed. More importantly, there is a download feature that allows you to publish anywhere or just print it.   Another site that you may try is MakeBeliefsComix, which has similar features.

How would I use it? Try activities with a sequence; writing lesson on speaking and “thinking in head” using bubbles; post (fiction/non-fiction) reading build a summary or theme; science experiment sequence; 3-panel beginning-middle-end of story; newspaper editors column; reflection piece.

We would love to hear how you’re using comic strips. Please drop us a comment.

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