Thursday, November 17, 2011

Week 11

After Reading Strategies
Writing after reading has three main purposes:

Integrate: The student integrates the new information into their schema.
Elaborate: The student elaborates on what they have learned.
Apply: The student applies the information they have learned in some practical way.

Formal Writing

The Before-During-After format can be interpreted as a KWL graphic organizer. KWL stands for:

Know: What do I already know?
Want: What questions do I have? What do I want to know?
Learn: What have I learned? How were my questions addressed?

Formal writing allows the opportunity to increase student comprehension by allowing the student to ask serious questions, analyze text, and then interpret meaning. By using a KWL organizer a student has specific goals in mind at the outset of the reading assignment. A KWL chart looks a lot like this:

In the Know column, after a topic has been decided on, a student will write down everything they know, without concern for formatting or chronology. The second step would then be to look for connected ideas. After the connected ideas have been located, the unnecessary details can be removed. Finally, the organized Know column will be complete. 

In the Want column, the student will then post questions pertaining to each area of their organized Know chart in which they have questions. For instance, should there be a break in the logic between two main ideas, the student would look to repair that break. The student then undertakes the task of research in order to answer these questions.

The Learn column would then be the findings from the research that was completed as a result of the questions in the Want column. After all three columns are complete, the student is well prepared for formal writing. The basic steps are as follows:

summarize in an outline
construct sentences

Key to forming good Want questions are the five W's and the H:


Another way to organize information for formal writing is an "I-Chart."

TOPIC        I      Question 1  I    Question 2   I    Question 3
Source 1      I                         I                        I               
Source 2      I                         I                        I     
Source 3      I                         I                         I 

An I-chart could be utilized at the Want and Learned stage and is especially well suited to support projects which require multiple sources. With an I chart the student finds the answers to the same question in multiple sources and then records the answer. This format is especially well suited to research  papers and comparative essays.

There are four types of Formal Writing Strategies that are especially useful, they are:

GRASP ( Guided Reading and Summary Strategy)
KWL     (Know, Want, Learn)
I-Chart   (Graphic organizer for multi-source work)
Multigenre Research (research that incorporates multiple genres of writing)

Creative Writing

Creative writing can be a very useful tool for assessing comprehension and encouraging high order thinking by students. When instructing a student in creative writing it is important to impress upon them the RAFT formula for pre-writing. The RAFT formula is as follows:

Role-         Who are you?
Audience- To whom are you writing?
Format-     What form will your writing take?
Topic-       What will you write about?

RAFT could certainly be used for any style of writing but is especially useful in creative writing as a starting point. Two creative writing assignments that can offer students a great deal of structure and at the same time encourage creativity and critical thinking are Cinquains and Diamantes. Both are poem structures. The Cinquian is five lines long: 
The first line is a singular noun. 
The second contains two adjectives that describe line one. 
The third line has three action words describing line one.
The fourth line is a four word feeling verb phrase.
The fifth line is a single word synonym to line one.
The following is an example of a cinquain poem found on Cinquin examples.
Cinquain Pattern #2
Messy, spicy
Slurping, sliding, falling
Between my plate and mouth
(by Cindy Barden)

The Diamante differs in that it has seven lines. All are the same on lines one through three. However, at line four, something different is required. The reason being is that the seventh line is an antonym to line one and at line four, the poem switches focus from the word in line one to it's opposite in line seven. In this way, a Diamante is a literary reflecting pool where everything in the reflection appears as the opposite of the original. It is fascinating really, because the student reflects upon the reading to determine an important word and then reflects on the word outside of the context of the reading in order to construct the second half of the poem. The student has constructed, at this point, overlapping realms that both contain the same word but in which the word takes on very different connotations.

Relavance to History

Writing for understanding is an imperative part of the History process. In fact, the act of Historicizing is extracting meaning based on documents. Formal writing is important to be sure, but using creative writing offers a student to experience empathy and connect on a more emotional level with their text. The KWL, I-Chart, and RAFT format are all exceptional organizational tools to lower student's affective filters in regard to writing. A well structured essay or story also offers a source of pride to the student who, rather than just taking in information, has taken part in the process of creating something. The act of creation is an act of giving to the great body of literature that grows each day. Students, through writing activities are taking an active role rather than a passive one in regards to the creation of knowledge.

Application in a US History classroom

Students are often instructed to read segments for Upton Sinclair's muckraking novel The Jungle during the study of the early nineteenth century. There are a variety of assignments that could work well after a reading of this type. For a KWL, the students could be asked to write what they know about how hamburgers are made. Everything they could think of would be included in the Know column. Then, they would organize these ideas into a process and, after eliminating unnecessary concepts, identify questions they have. As they read, they could write their answers to their questions in the Learn section of the chart. Armed with the chart, the students could then write an essay on the differences between a consumer's perception of meat packing and the description in the text.

A creative writing assignment could be to have students, after reading the text, imagine themselves as the child of one of the workers and write a story about what it would be like to see one's father coming home maimed and injured from the conditions at work.

There are many possibilities within history for role-playing and exploration. By using these tools teachers can assist students in kick-starting the writing process. The more a student writes, the more comfortable they become with it. Eventually, through critical thinking and analysis, the student becomes a teacher whose subject matter is their own perceptions. When a student reaches this level, it is the joy of the teacher to explore how and why the student learns and experiences the world. To have a student be able to write in such a way that gives the reader an opportunity to see with new eyes is the ultimate reward of instilling a love for reading and writing in our students. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 10

Writing For Comprehension
While there are certainly many ways to show understanding, writing is perhaps the most comprehensive. Oftentimes, when one hears "writing," the mind can jump immediately to research papers and essays. Essays are, without a doubt, valuable tools but not the only form of writing that can offer students benefits. There are three styles of writing, each with their own merit: formal, informal, and creative.

Formal writing is writing that has a predetermined structure and purpose. Oftentimes formal writing will be revised and edited. Examples of formal writing include articles for publication, novels, business proposals, technical manuals, essays, research papers and dissertations. Even this blog could be considered formal writing. Naturally, not all essays nor blogs are designed the same, but most will consider at least some formal elements.

Informal writing is writing that is loosely structured, not intended for a large audience and does not require the use of traditional grammar rules. Informal writing may be condensed or summarized but is rarely edited. Examples of informal writing include personal journals, notes, outlines, brainstorming, lists, tweets, some emails, and text messages. Informal writing exercises are excellent to use prior to a formal writing exercise. Since a writer is unrestrained by rules of grammar and structure in an informal writing exercise they would be free to get all of their thoughts on paper and organize them afterward. The organization of informal writing into a structure is the transition from informal to formal.

Creative writing is exactly what it sounds like. Creative writing can take on characteristics of both formal and informal writing but is far less concerned with facts and more concerned with imagination. Examples of creative writing include stories, poetry, skits, stream-of-consciousness and imaginative exercises. Creative writing assignments are good for letting a writer discover their own voice without the constraints of being 'right' or 'wrong.' As a writer develops their creativity they will find informal exercises and formal structures useful for strengthening their writing. Creative writing encourages the heart and mind to act as one. 


Each style-formal, informal, and creative- do not exist independently of each other but are complemented by one another. By encouraging students to utilize all three writing styles we, as teachers, offer them opportunities to express themselves more clearly. This expression is just as much to an outside audience as it is to themselves. Through writing we determine how and what we want to say and why we want to say it. Writing gives students a voice. In a world that can oftentimes seem overbearing and confining, giving a student a means by which to develop their identity and express themselves, we are empowering them. Lowering the affective filter between students and writing is a key to their mastery of all subjects. 

Relevance to History

History lends itself to formal writing, ultimately, but leading up to a formal paper it is important to experience all writing styles. Creative writing allows a student to put themselves in the shoes of a character in history. Informal writing is used constantly with note taking, journal entries and all of the tools that help develop a formal paper-such as outlines. In addition to the writing process, the student comes into contact, especially with primary source material, with all of these writing styles in the research process. For instance, Anne Frank's diary was an informal writing by Anne Frank, but is a useful tool for understanding the conditions of Jews in Germany during the second World War. Also, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is a piece of creative writing but provides keen insight into the types of problems facing the nation during the Progressive Era. History is dependent upon writing and the field only progresses because of the due diligence of good historical writers.

Example of use in a History classroom

Creative writing

Student's would be asked to write a page about an average day in their life. Then, the student would write a version, with the same basic structure, from the point of view of a person their age in the unit that was being studied. The whole unit could be set up so that the role of teenagers was discussed during every time period covered. For instance, during the Progressive Era, child labor could be discussed.

Informal writing

Student's would write a journal that had topics covered during class and their impressions. Additionally, the student's could practice designing outlines for topics. For instance, an outline for benefits of the Railroad would look something like this:

Topic: Railroad
Bias: Benefits

Paragraph I: Introduction
Thesis: The development of the railroads positively influenced the US by...
                  a. speeding up travel
                  b. speeding up communication
                  c. connecting consumers with goods and services
Paragraph II: Travel
                 a. before (average trip time)
                     1. problems
                 b. after    (average trip time)
                     1. benefits
Paragraph III: Coomunication
                 a. what was used  before
                     1. problems with that system
                 b. how railroads were used to facilitate communication
                    1. how the problems from a.1. were solved
Paragraph IV: Enlarged Market
                 a. limitations of markets before railroad
                 b. benefits of railroad in delivering goods and expanding markets
Paragraph V: Conclusion
                 a. place railroads in context of world history
                 b. restate travel, communication, market expansion
                 c. It is clear that railroads were epic wonderful for the furtherment of mankind blah blah blah...
Formal writing

In formal writing the student will use the outlines they have been creating during the semester to begin writing well structured essays. As the semester progresses, essays can become more personal incorporating the creative aspect of role-playing into a historical essay. For instance, the student would answer the prompt "I would most like to live in the time of _____  rather than ____because..." The student would use the formal essays they had written to support their argument as to why the time period they chose would be better than the time period they are arguing against. The student would have the experience of analyzing key characteristics of a time period while simultaneously empathizing with the role of the youth in that particular culture. By identifying with a group, such as youth, the student would be better equipped to relate the experiences of their own life to the lessons they explored in the History classroom.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Week 9

During reading strategies Part II

Graphic organizers are a great way to engage a student during a reading activity, and increase comprehension. Essentially graphic organizers are representations of details and big ideas in such a way that the relationships between them are shown. The risk of reading without an engaging "during" strategy is the student may grasp the big picture but be unable to relate the details that ultimately determined the main idea. Should some of those details fall by the way-side in the recollection process, it would be feasible for a student to gather a completely contrary picture of the main idea of a piece of literature. That being said, there are many types of graphic organizers that can be used. Many of them are good for a variety of uses.

There are essentially two different text structures in any piece of literature. The first is the external text structure. This refers to things that are included with the text to serve as guides or navigation tools, or simply supplements. Table of contents, index, photographs, end-notes, foot-notes, and bibliographies are all examples of external text structures. Internally, text has four basic structures:

1.Description- This style is a classification of information using characteristics, definitions or examples.         a. suitable graphic organizer: web, or mind map

        2.Compare/Contrast: Great for showing similarities and differences. Oftentimes one or the other may be readily seen, but the converse requires more critical thinking and encourages analysis.
        a. Venn diagrams, T-charts and tables are good for representing a compare/contrast text structure.

3. Sequence: Sequences are good for representing text in relation to time. Not to be confused with the next structure, cause and effect.
      a. Timelines, lists and cycles are good for representing sequences.

4. Cause and Effect: This structure is good for showing how one event leads to another. This structure lends itself to representing the influence of one event upon another. Ultimately, seeing things as inter-connected heightens comprehension of all text. 
    a. The Cause/Effect text structure can look very similar to a sequence. The difference is that there is explicit causality in a cause/effect graphic organizer. A sub category of cause/effect is problem/solution.

Application to History

Each of these structures have an important role to play in history. Oftentimes history is portrayed in the simplest format, description. The most important tools are cause/effect and compare and contrast. Understanding the similarities between events and the multiple causality of our rich history is the most direct path to comprehension. 

Example of Graphic Organizer in History Curriculum

Given a piece of text, perhaps on the effects of developments in technology on agriculture in Virginia, a student could interpret that information using a Venn Diagram to compare pre-industrial and post-industrial Virginia. Certainly there would be many similarities and differences. 

Parallel timelines which showed the average population, crop production and developments in technology could be used to show sequences. Then, from those timelines, cause and effect analysis could be used to show the relationships between the three. 

These methods would cause the students to analyze one piece of literature from multiple perspectives. The comprehension of the text would increase exponentially with every examination of the text. Full mastery would be the desired result, naturally. The added bonus of graphic organizers in history is that it gives the teacher a picture into the logic process of the student. In this way a teacher can see, quite directly, where a student may or may not be understanding the material. Much in the same way that a mathematics teacher can pinpoint the line of reasoning that led to an incorrect answer, a history teacher can identify which piece of information led to a false conclusion due to omission or misinterpretation of facts.