Unit vs. Lesson Plans: Argument Unit Part 1



I enjoy planning for instruction! I liken it to a puzzle in which I take the pieces (resources) and piece them together to fit my needs.

I am concerned by the number of teachers who post complaints on Facebook, usually on Sunday night, complaining about the hours they have spent in lesson planning.

While I realize profusely that this is none of my business, I cannot help wonder about the practice of writing weekly lesson plans. Only viewing your course through short snippets seems to prevent understanding terminal goals or outcomes. How can one see the big picture by focusing one week at a time? If your lesson plans are completed on Sunday night how then does one prepare materials ahead of time?

These concerns prevent my indulging in such practices. I plot out the year by focusing on big ideas through a theme. That theme is broken into smaller more definite subtopics. Through the subtopic, I then attempt to match the Common Core State Standards focusing on those that help meet the essential question for the unit.

OK enough gobbledygook! Here are some specifics. The course is 8th Grade ELA. The overarching theme is “Finding New Solutions to Old Problems.” The subtopic is “The Holocaust.” The unit that I am planning for now is to be used in January for the third nine weeks of school. Instruction for the first semester focused on strategies to read and write informational text and literature. We are now ready for a more focused reading and writing in terms of “Argument.” During the course of this unit students will learn to read/analyze arguments as well as write a sound and valid argument. My challenge is as follows:

  • Identify the CCSS that meet the needs of reading, analyzing, and writing arguments.
  • Locate resources that demonstrate how to teach students to read, analyze, and write arguments.
  • Revise those resources to meet the needs of my students.
  • Adapt the resources so that they help students to understand the Holocaust and the anchor book, “Night.”

In future postings, I will share my thought process and progress for this unit.





Somewhat Disconnected


Photo courtesy http://centerforcreativity.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Connected_Educator_Month.png

Photo courtesy http://centerforcreativity.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Connected_Educator_Month.png

It is “Connected Educator” month and I have connected with no one except my students and their parents.

It is the second year of Common Core implementation and I have worked harder than any of my previous 20 plus years of teaching.

But… the work is exciting and quite fulfilling. I finally can answer the question, “Why are we learning this?”

But… as in anything new the journey carries challenges. For me this has been,

  • Demonstrating and expecting students to back up a claim with text evidence.
  • Demonstrating and expecting students to make connections between people, events, and ideas in text.
  • Demonstrating and expecting students to determine central ideas and themes.
  • Helping students to understand this is new and success doesn’t happen on the first try.
  • Helping parents to understand this is new and success doesn’t happen on the first try.

It takes time, it is worth it, we will succeed. I believe.

Final Day ISTE13

The scenery on the walk to the Convention Center

The scenery on the walk to the Convention Center

Reflections: I am coming home with no free books, devices, or any other give-aways. Perhaps I am unlucky or more aptly, I spent no time in learning how to acquire these things. My time was spent in sessions and in between, I reflected and began planning for new school year. I am bringing home many things but they are all in my mind: a new way of structuring class so that students are more in charge of their learning, a better way to plan instruction where students actually create, a whole new look at Google Drive, and I finally think I can make an infographic!

“Infographics” by Carmella Doty and Renee Henderson, http://www.infographics-edkit.com/

“The Creation Myth, Creating With Technology is Not Enough” by Heidi Beezley and Jason Thibodeau, https://sites.google.com/site/formfoundfunction/presentations/the-creationism-myth-creating-with-technology-versus-creating-with-content

  • Taxonomy of Thinking Skills: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_vhk14Upn5XQTNGWnNQdzNVbzQ/edit
  • How does Bloom’s Taxonomy and the new tools connect?
  • Creation Swatches (Add these elements to the essential question): Decision, What if? Prediction, Problem-Solving, Analogy/Metaphor, and Piecing Together/Induction
  • Creation requires that the answer cannot be found on Google.

Day Two ISTE 2013

The River Walk by the convention center in San Antonio

The River Walk by the convention center in San Antonio

Reflections: I heard someone say today that this is their second year of attending ISTE and they have learned that it is the contacts they make that are more important than the sessions. This same person gave a shout out for Twitter as a primary learning tool. I must say that I couldn’t relate to this thinking. I have great regard for those presenters who have traveled (sometimes a long ways), often spending their own money to share what they think and know. I enjoy Twitter but by its very nature it contains short snippets of information. I need to see the big picture and yes, I really enjoy the long list of resources that I have bookmarked for future use.

“Cool Google Tools for the BYOD Classroom” by Tammy Worchester SDE http://www.tammyworcester.com/TWHandouts/New_Handouts/Training_Handouts.html

  • Favorite tools Google Forms and Blogger
  • Blogger can be interactive:Get response from students using comments; set to approve so that you can moderate comments
  • Exit Card – learning journal about what has been learned.
  • Dear Abby – respond to class problems.
  • Make an assignment and post to the blog, using email post function. Thru settings, post reaction
  • Google Forms and Spreadsheet – making interactiveCollect information from students
  • Then use information and aggregate with tools like Wordle (for a word cloud) or BatchGeo (to see on a map).
  • Fast quiz – ask a question and see who answers first. (Delete rows to do again)
  • Tip #81 will show you how to set up a multiple number quiz

“Photo Safari: Using Cameras to Raise Student Engagement” by Dr. Larry S. Anderson and Mr. Craig Nansen http://nctp.com/photosafari – download of free book on Photo Safaris

  • Photography is a superb way to connect with nature and it works in three ways,
  • Connecting with the subject when you make the picture
  • Connecting again with the subject when you look at the photo later
  • Helping others connect with photo subject
  • “Make” a photo rather than “take” or “shoot,” words that have taken on a negative connotation.
  • Focus on subject and use prepositions to photograph it (under, over, beside, etc.)
  • Research: Learn about your town, people in the town, and architecture
  • Change of venue for students
  • Document new places, techniques, etc.
  • Value of collecting for purpose of sharing
  • Photography Assignment Generator – find at App Store
  • bit.ly/istephotowalk

Visual Literacy Through Infographics by Shirley Farrell, Alabama Department of Education

  • http://re.vu/sfarrell – infographic of her vitae
  • http://Go-globe.com
  • Nonlinguistic Representation – mental pictures, graphics, physical sensations
  • What is an infographic? Graphic representation of text, data, and pictures. Complex information is presented quickly and clearly. Would be unwieldy in text form.
  • Benefits: excellent for visual/spatial learners, less intimidating for non-to low- readers, adds creativity back into the learning, can be static, interactive, or animated, collaborative or individual projects
  • Interactive infographic – http://www.visual-literacy.org/periodic_table/periodic_table.html
  • Animated Infographic – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io-Gh0CBZOA
  • Types: diagrams, timelines, mind tools/graphic organizers, maps, word clouds, tables – need to put together to tell a story
  • A Street Through Time by Dr. Anne Mildred or How Things Work by David Macauley
  • High Quality Infographics: Skeletons/Flowcharts, Color Scheme, Graphics, Research/Data, and Knowledge (http://spyrestudios.com)
  • You are telling a story, create a good question, research the answer, keep it simple
  • What? So what? Now what?

ISTE 2013

Photo courtesy of https://www.isteconference.org/2013/

Photo courtesy of https://www.isteconference.org/2013/

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reflections: My attendance at this yearly conference comes at the end of a very busy working vacation. I am tired, jet-lagged, and feeling a bit separate from the scores of Tweeters who are energetically sharing their enthusiasm. Today’s sessions yielded a few bits of new ideas for the classroom but the ideas from Will Richardson brought me out of my weariness, causing me to think about an entirely new approach to teaching. It’s not the “cool tools” that cause a session to be packed that will make the difference. It’s looking at the way people learn in today’s world.

“Digital Storytelling in the Classroom” by Dr. Talitha Hudgens, School of Education, Utah Valley University https://sites.google.com/site/hudginsdigitalmedia/

  • Should illuminate rather than illustrate – all elements should work together
  • Must have a dramatic question that will be answered in the story.
  • Engages the audience
  • Should be 2-3 minutes to tell story without overloading the viewer
  • Images should be used in such a way that without them there is less understanding, influence, and impact
  • Music is 50% of the experience
  • Can use Photo Editing software to insert images within images (ex. Dora into Mountain Men)
  • Some examples of tools: Photo Story 3, iMovie, Powerpoint, Animoto, Adobe Premiere, Flash, and Narrable.com (New program from audience member)
  • Should have students license their work through Creative Commons

“Leveraging Social Networks” by Michael Manderino, Assistant Professor of Literacy Education, Northern Illinois University and Lisa Ripley, Social Studies Teacher, Leyden High School – https://sites.google.com/site/isteleveragingsocialnetworks/

  • Students’ lives saturated with social media and the platforms changes often.
  • Our job is to help them navigate and engage productively. Use with your (the teacher’s) content area to engage as professionals do.
  • What does it mean to think historically? Scientifically? Or as a literary critic?
  • Need to be able to make a claim and support it with relevant and accurate information.

“Abundant Learning: Four New Strategies for Connected Classrooms” by Will Richardson http://www.slideshare.net/willrich45, @willrich45, http://www.willrichardson.com

  • #iste13wr – to continue the conversation
  • “We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion.” ~Margaret Weakley
  • Traditional Learning =Delivery, Just in Case, Vs. Modern Learning=Discovery, Just in Time
  • Abundance of information, knowledge, and teachers; supply of knowledge and information is expanding at an unprecedented rate; can’t predict the impact of technology on the future of learning and work
  • Key Shift – Institutionally-Organized Word to Self-Organized World
  • The abundance of knowledge, information, content, teachers, and technology shifts the balance of power for learning from the school to the learner.
  • “Why School” by Will Richardson, e-book from Amazon
  • “Better” matters little if what people want is different.
  • “Knowmadic” Learning – self-organized learning, based on passions or interests at the moment, not based on standards, “Knowmad Society” by John W. Moravec – knowmadsociety.com
  • http://atlas.edupunksguide.org
  • Top learning tool 2012 = Twitter
  • Design Thinking – help with a process to solve problems, “Design Thinking for Educators’ – http://www.designthinkingforeducators.com
  • The Maker Movement – Because of new technologies, we can make products that solve problems, the realization that one can make something happen, Albemarle Schools in VA – Pam Moran
  • Bit.ly/IIX5R7F
  • “Invent to Learn” by Silvia Martinez and Gary Stager

“Reading, Writing, and Wikis” by Stephanie Sandifer Houston A+ Challenge http://www.ed421.com, http://rwwikis.wikispaces.com/ #rwwikis @ssandifer

  • Requires organization
  • Explicit instruction on how to use the components of the wiki – profile page for example
  • Use names that you know so you the trail of student work/comments can be identified.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with using the wiki before using with students.

Transitioning to Common Core

Image courtesy of http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy

I began the school year planning instruction using the Common Core State Standards instead of Tennessee’s. My thinking was that the ability to read and write critically would prepare a student for any type of assessment but more realistically give them strategies for the type of reading needed for authentic literacy situations.

Despite my meager knowledge of the subject at this point, I was amazed at the excitement I felt. Class conversations brought observations that eluded me. I didn’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time hunting for ways to make the learning motivating and meaningful.

But my time was spent on something tedious and that was helping the students to “unlearn” so many bad habits that well meaning instructors had instilled into my learners: a five paragraph response to any prompt, using such mundane phrases as “in my opinion,” and “in conclusion,” introducing the introduction, explaining the assignment rather than responding to it, and summarizing instead of forming a meaningful conclusion.

We rewrote (and when I say we, I mean all of us!) and returned to the same texts, offering new ideas, and sharing revisions. During a recent assignment, a student attached this comment, “Mrs. Shoulders, I now don’t use so much “I believe….” I always state my claim, and I don’t start off with I believe; thanks for teaching me that.”

The small steps are paying off; they (no I mean we) are starting to get it.


Using Edmodo


I have been a user of Edmodo for a number of years now. What surprises me about this social networking site is its depth. I began using it as a place to post private class discussions. For those who may not be familiar with this tool, teachers sign up for a free account and add groups; I associate a group with each period’s class. Each class is assigned a group code. After students sign up, you give them the appropriate code and they can join your class groups. This makes it quite easy for students to use Edmodo for multiple classes but keep them separate. For example, many of my peers allow extemporaneous discussion on Edmodo. I do not, believing that places like Facebook and Twitter are better suited for this kind of activity. I also discourage contact with me unless it is direct to keep discussions private. Each teacher can set their own parameters, since they will be unable to see the other teacher’s space.

Then I discovered the assignment piece. Working in a computer lab this was a wonderful way for students to turn in work. As long as I have the appropriate program to open a file on my end, students are able to upload most any file. There are times that we have had to work through this. For example, I want all Publisher files saved as .pdf and Window Movie Maker converted to .mov. Students don’t always understand that a working file is not necessarily a published file. I have had to get rather stern with this rule because I grade most work on a Mac computer that does not have these programs.

With Paint, I prefer the file to saved as .jpeg because the other image choices force me to download the project to be able to see it. I want to open it and use the annotation features that Edmodo includes. It is especially nice to annotate Word files and show students exactly where there are problem spots. The annotation component allows you to type anywhere on document in a variety of colors. You can also highlight and strikeout parts of the text. With the resubmit option, students are able to correct and attempt for a higher grade.

It was only recently that I discovered that Edmodo has a notifications feature. Sometimes the obvious doesn’t appear to me. With that feature, I know when students have submitted work or communicated with me. Edmodo also features a free phone app that will push notifications.

The teacher community on Edmodo is very active and helpful. You can connect with other teachers and share ideas and materials. Other features that exist and may prove useful:

  • Badges you can make or borrow from other users to reward work or behavior
  • Polls to survey students
  • The ability to make and assign quizzes
  • The ability to form subgroups
  • Add parents as observers of the work

Edmodo sponsors professional development called EdmodoCon in August. Unfortunately for me, my school system begins the first week of August BUT the sessions are taped for those of use who cannot attend this virtual event. I discovered a wonderful idea for using Edmodo to create a virtual gaming unit. I plan to modify and use this idea with my 8th grade Computer Technology students later this semester. It involves all the aspects of gaming but students “play” by writing blogs.

I find myself checking Edmodo just as I do email, Facebook, and Twitter to see if there is anything new because I feel like I am just doing the minimum now!

Authentic Computer Experiences????

Student Project

Computers can be wonderful but without a reason for being, so to speak, they are consoles that attract dust. I have eight computer technology classes. One half of the students meet for three days a week, the other students meet the remaining two days. Many of my peers believe this to be a necessary class so that students can learn to keyboard, making it easier on them when it comes to class writing assignments.

Oh, but if it were that easy! Keyboarding is like any skill; improvement comes with practice. There are numerous standards associated with this class and keyboarding is part of one. At the best of times, five minutes of keyboarding practice takes place.

I use the remaining time to teach literacy, which I believe is the key to success in today’s world. In these United States, people are class divided by education. Other demographics may be factored in but without education, it is difficult to make it.

This is a day-to-day conversation with myself. In what ways can I help to further more literate students? One thing, I decided to do this year was to have a book anchor each class. My 8th graders are reading “The Hunger Games” and my 6th grade students are enjoying “The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963.” Each day I spend about 10-15 minutes reading aloud and except for a few children, most are enthralled.

The task is to find activities that back up the books and teach computer skills. Here is one idea I used. Through a mini unit on characterization, the 8th grade students began thinking about the traits of Katniss or Peeta by making trading cards using an interactive at readwritething.org. In addition to the obvious thinking about character traits, they learned about .pdf files. Most did not know what they were and that the universal sharing of information is important.

Next I wanted them to think visually, so I found a website that allows you to design and then buy a t-shirt. We talked about the things that were important to Katniss and Peeta and how these could be symbolized. Students chose images, which involved a lesson on Creative Commons and fair use, to design a t-shirt with symbols of that character. They then learned how to take a screen shot (and crop it) so that I could see it.

We progressed to what could be learned through dialogue. After discussion, my learners went to GoAnimate and created scenes between Katniss or Peeta and any other character in the book. The dialogue was made up but had to stay true to the characters. This proved quite motivating and taught them how to share a document with me through email.

The unit culminated with a project. Using all that they had learned, students compiled a scrapbook for Katniss or Peeta using Microsoft Publisher. This helped to understand the concept of a template, how to cite images, and reinforced word-processing skills. Of all the activities that I had them do, this was the weakest in creativity. I will have to reevaluate for next time.


This kind of thinking will be continuous – how do I use the computers, meet the standards, and thereby increasing literacy skills???

Help For Writing Workshop

It seems for some time every school year brings (for me) a new subject (s) and ways to teach it. I am working with an 8th grade ELA block this year that has expanded by twenty minutes. My first thought was – more time to have a writing workshop. And that has been the case but how to go about it?

I decided to consult the experts: Jeff Anderson and Kelly Gallagher. Not in person of course but through these books: Everyday Editing (Stenhouse Publishers, $20.00) and Mechanically Inclined (Stenhouse Publishers, $22.50) by Jeff, his latest – 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (Stenhouse Publishers, $24.00) and Kelly’s Write Like This, Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts. (Stenhouse Publishers, $23.00) No, I do not own stock in Stenhouse; it is just coincidental that I use these publications.

I became aware of Jeff Anderson several years ago through a colleague, beginning with “Everyday Editing.” I was thrilled with the plethora of mentor sentences and Jeff’s concept of “inviting” students to notice and work with the embedded grammar skills.

When conducting mini-lessons on writing, I begin with these mentor sentences but model as well so the students see experts and their teacher trying to make sense of grammar and sentence structure. Although “Mechanically Inclined” was written first, I found it after I began using “Everyday Editing.” It includes concepts not covered in the other. In addition to the mentor sentences, Anderson discusses the rules of these devices and students’ misconceptions, offering ideas for visualization of abstract concepts, as well as scaffolding. Occasionally there are suggestions for extensions, writing a new piece, but when there isn’t I find he has left me feeling secure enough to come up with an idea on my own.

“10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know” is just that! Ideas like motivation, narrowing a topic, organization – all part of writer’s craft, are covered in one word topics: Motion, Models, and Focus are listed as the first three. One of Anderson’s strength’s in all of his books is dispelling the notion that students learn grammar and writing through rigid instruction and the use of workbooks, thus students are taught to view the writing process as a scientist would field explorations.

That concept is part of Gallagher’s “Write Like This, Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts.” Beginning with an enlightening discussion of the writing expected of potential California police officers, Gallagher stresses the importance of students realizing that writing is a real-world skill and should be presented in that light. Real world writing can be categorized into six ways: Express and Reflect, Inform and Explain, Evaluate and Judge, Inquire and Explore, Analyze and Interpret, and Take a Stand/Propose a Position. He demonstrates how to take a topic of interest and create potential writing prompts for these types of writing. It was quite easy for me to personalize it and create a model for the students. They in turn created their own organizer filled with a year’s worth of writing ideas on things that are motivating to them. Furthering the scientist analogy, Gallagher includes a table comparing the scientific method and how it looks in writing.

I have asked students to treat their writer’s notebooks in this way. They are places for the recording of observations, making inferences on grammar rules and application, or playing with words or sentence structure. Hopefully you can tell that my students are generating quite a bit of writing – this in addition to any writing done during standard’s based explicit instruction. It becomes easy for me to ask them to take a section of the writing to work with on any day.

While I have been doing some sort of writing workshop for over twenty years, I still feel like a newbie. I change “the how” and “the what” often but these two gentlemen have offered me resources to keep my students motivated and writing. I thank both of you!



New App, Neat App

Screen shot from my iPhone


Not owning an iPad, I haven’t really gotten into the app world much. I have installed a few on my iPhone but none for educational purposes until I ran across a description of Book Retriever. This nifty app allows you to scan your classroom library and then students will be able to check out your books.

I own thousands of books and encourage my students to check out as many as they want or need but when a Newberry Award winner went missing last year no one wanted to own up to it and I was disappointed. So it got lost, things happen, but I wish the student would have helped me by admitting that he or she had been reading the book. Book Retriever will help me to know who last had the book.

Of course this takes time. I have decided to only scan multi-chapter books, and only those set out for check out. That will allow me  to have the entire school year to go through my inventory. It also took me some time to add my students. All the entering of data is into my iPhone and for me it is a tedious process. BUT after all of the entering of data, the fun began. A student brought me their book, I scanned, chose their name and knew then who is currently reading this selection.

The creator of the app, Ben Conn, is an email away. I was having trouble logging into the app and asked for help. He quickly got back with me and corrected my thinking.

If I had one picky complaint, I wish Ben had a way to enter Scholastic Books into his data base. I had to manually enter most of my inventory that I purchased through warehouse or book fair sales. Perhaps though, that is not possible since Scholastic purchases these books from other publishers.

The app is $.99 and available for Android devices as well. If you want to know who is reading what, as well as keeping track of your inventory, check it out!