Author: Eric M.

Top 10 Reasons to Teach Project-Based Writing

Project Based Writing Teacher Created Resources

Project-based writing puts a spin on project-based learning, which is the act of learning through identifying a real-world problem and developing its solution. Project-based writing activities are differentiated and cross-curricular. It argues that any subject — be it language arts or STEM — can benefit from strong writing practice. Any genre of writing can support the other. And any engaging activity that links academic learning to the real world can be a 21st-century tool. Here are the top 10 reason to teach project-based writing in your classroom:

  1. It is an organic way to integrate all core subjects — math, science, history, and language arts.
  1. Project-based writing proves to students that imagination and creativity are connected to research and expository writing.
  2. It hits all the major elements of the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: Analysis, Evaluation and Creation.
  1. By allowing students to choose their format of showing what they know, the buy-in for the quality of the final project is tremendous.
  1. Students develop projects that are individualized, unique, and specific from each other.
  2. Project-Based Writing is a powerful way to incorporate all multiple intelligences: visual, verbal, logical, musical, physical, social, solitary, and naturalistic.
  1. It desegregates nonfiction and fiction, blending the two.
  2. It integrates the core subjects with non-core subjects, potentially using technology, art, music, etc.
  1. Project-based writing is a rigorous assessment requiring high levels of thought and communication.
  2. It requires use of the entire writing process — from brainstorming to revising, editing, and completing the final draft — regardless of the genres picked and the topic chosen.

For more activities see Project-Based Writing

One Size Does Not Fit All (Grade Levels)

In a recent post, I wrote about my wife (“Mrs. M”), a substitute teacher who needed to be always prepared for the mysteries and challenges her day might present.  For Mrs. M., knowing the grade level and age range of the students she is about to teach is probably the most essential piece of the puzzle.  Which resources to use, which strategies to employ, even which clothes to wear—these are all influenced by the expectations she has of what a kindergarten-classroom experience will be versus what a day in sixth grade might bring.  (For example, Mrs. M. brings plenty of stickers and picture books for younger students, while she likes to assign writing prompts and read Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories books to grades 3 and up.)  Sure, there is some commonality to the two experiences, but if you were to create a Venn diagram with “Teaching Kindergarteners” and “Teaching 6th Graders” as your labels, the center-circle overlap would not need to be nearly as large as the outer areas.

This is not so different from how we approach our work in the world of educational publishing.  One of the first questions to ask when reading a manuscript or beginning the editing process is, “What grade level is this for?”  Once this question is answered, several other answers fall into place:

•  Which point size to use:  12 pt. vs. 14 pt.  (The younger the audience, the bigger the letters should be.)

•  Which font style to use:  serif vs. sans serif.  (The younger the audience, the fewer frills and flourishes those letters should have.  And it even goes further than that:  a font may seem perfectly suitable but then have a strangely-shaped lowercase “a” or capital “Q,” for instance.  Young students have just learned their letters a certain way, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to recognize alternate versions.)

•  Which write-on lines to use:  regular vs. primary  (Primary write-on lines are those big, wide ones that have a dashed guide line going across the horizontal middle.  They take up a lot of space on the page, and many are needed for each question.  Young learners write with such large letters that they can only fit a few words on each of line.)

•  Which art style to use:  cartoon vs. realistic.  (A smiling, whimsical walrus would most likely be inappropriate for an upper-level science book.)

These are just a few of the cosmetic things we try to keep in mind when we design the layout of our pages.  Content, of course, must also be considered and tailored to the specific learning level we are aiming to reach.  In the end, we are hoping to create the perfect balance between what best helps teachers teach and students learn.

We do get occasional feedback about some of the finer points of page layout, and we would love to hear from as many teachers as possible.  Do you have any suggestions for ways we can make our books easier and more practical to use for the grade level that you teach?  Here’s a topic to get you started:  name lines.  Would you prefer to have a designated space on the page that says “Name:  __________,” or would you rather that space used for an extra question?

All Eyes on Vancouver

I grew up at just the right time and in just the right place to get an early education in the excitement of the Olympic Games. In 1984, the Summer Games took place in Los Angeles; and, in part due to the Eastern Bloc boycott, that was a good year to root for the red, white, and blue. The United States ended up earning an Olympic-record 83 gold medals that year, which was more than the next five most-decorated countries combined. Each day during the Games, my whole family and most of my friends tuned in to our TV sets to watch these feel-good stories unfold. The places—Dodger Stadium, Pauley Pavilion, the Rose Bowl—were familiar; the faces—Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis—were new and inspiring. While a patriotic pride seemed to sweep over the country, a civic pride also developed. All eyes were on L.A., and there was a lot worth seeing.

It is now 26 years later, and another city is getting ready for its time in the spotlight. For those with close ties to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games will serve as an opportunity to strengthen their connection to the city. For those of us who have never lived near—or even visited—the region, the Games will offer a glimpse of a place that often ranks near the top of the “Most Livable City in the World” lists. During the past year, I have had the privilege of getting that glimpse in my role as editor for Teacher Created Resources. Our Journey to Vancouver books help to immerse students and educators—and editors, too!—in the global event that is the Olympic Games. No other happening produces this organically a blend of culture, competition, fraternity, inspiration, and achievement. It promises to be two weeks of teachable moments, and it all begins on February 12.

There’s No Substitute for Being Prepared

The spring and fall of 2009 have been trying times for California teachers. Even those with several years of experience entered the month of March on an anxious note, with their jobs in jeopardy amidst news of statewide budget cuts. As the temperatures of summer rose, so, too, did the number of pink slips handed out. And while some teachers who lost their positions were eventually rehired in the fall, many weren’t. The result: a lot of highly qualified teachers who are now sleeping nearer to their cell phones, waiting for an early-morning employment opportunity. This is the life of a substitute teacher.

As the husband of one such teacher, I get to experience the daily uncertainty firsthand. And the intrigue only begins when my wife (let’s call her “Mrs. M”) gets that 6:00 a.m. phone call. What school? What time? What grade level? Will she be singing and teaching sight words to excitable kindergarteners, or will she be multiplying fractions and discussing ancient civilizations with sassy sixth-graders? Either way, her workbag has to be packed and her clothes have to be hanging on the door, ready to go. That 6:00 a.m. phone call sometimes doesn’t come until 7:15.

When she arrives at the school, there are more questions in need of answering: Where is the classroom? Does she have bus duty? breakfast duty? recess duty? lunch duty? And, most importantly, of course, just who are these 30 small people with big personalities who are about to walk through the door?

A clue to how the day will go usually comes in the form of the notes the teacher has left. Are the lesson plans for the day included? Do copies need to be made? Did the teacher leave instructions about the classroom policies for bathroom breaks and pencil sharpening? (Maybe. Probably. Almost never.) And will the activities scheduled for that day actually take up the allotted time? Here’s where being the wife of an editor of educational materials can be a real bonus.

Two series of books that Mrs. M swears by are the Mind Twisters series and the Mastering Skills series. The Mind Twisters books give her plenty of ready-to-use, content-based time-fillers that get students to use their critical-thinking skills. Best of all, the students like doing these puzzles, riddles, and mazes so much that Mrs. M can use them as rewards for good behavior. The Mastering Skills books are handy because they’re great for reviewing grade-specific, standards-based skills.

The single most valuable resource Mrs. M has at her disposal, though, could be the Substitute Teacher Handbook. This one-stop guide is brimming with teaching strategies, classroom-management tips, and emergency curriculum, and it includes entire sections on working with special populations and being a professional substitute teacher (including FAQs and legal responsibilities).

While there is nothing that can make a substitute teacher’s job easy, there are resources like these that can make the substitute teacher more prepared. And you don’t have to be an expert in fractions or the Peloponnesian War to know that being prepared is at least half the battle.