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Thursday, 1 December 2016

When Struggling Readers Thrive, Dreams Come True

Submitted by Denise Litke, Instructional Coach 
ConferenceSummit 15:  When Struggling Readers Thrive Dreams Come True
Where and When:  Calgary, October 27th and 28th, 2016

“How do I teach voice in writing?”  is a common question I have had from teachers.  In fact, it was a question that arose at a recent PLC I was a part of a few weeks ago.  Fortunately, the timing of the Summit 15 Conference was perfect, as 6 + 1 Writing Traits guru Ruth Culham was there and addressed it in one of her writing sessions.  The thing to remember about voice is that it is not only the “personality” of the writer coming through, but also the tone or tenor of the piece, the audience you are writing for, and the mode/purpose of the writing (eg. narrative, expository, or persuasive). 
Here’s an example of how Ruth would do it:

To students - “You are writing a letter to someone who gave you a gift that you 
love!  How would that sound?  Let’s brainstorm some words.”  

Words that might be mentioned are excited, grateful, happy, and/or thankful.  Then students would use a number of those words in their letter.  Including those words alone will create a tone to the writing, as well as, students would have a specific audience they would be writing for.  But Ruth was not done yet.  The next stage to this voice writing piece would go like this: 

You got a gift from someone and three days later it broke.  You are writing a 
letter to the company who made the toy, stating how you feel, and that you want 
them to replace the toy.  How would that sound?  Let’s brainstorm some 

Once again, after the students have come up with some words, they use them in their writing.  Sounds easy, right?  The trick is ensuring we are intentional in our lesson design to provide clarity around what we want students to know, understand and be able to do as well as scaffold student learning; then, the ease of what we want students to know and be able to do flows into our instruction. 

Also, when teaching voice, or any other trait for that matter, consider using picture books as a way to springboard into a writing lesson.  Not only are they strong examples of good writing, but they are also short and fun to read!  A few of my favourites are Voices in the Park by Anthony Brown, One Dark and Dreadful Night by Randy Cecil  (also great for word choice), I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff (a great example of persuasive writing too) and The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka.

            So, the next time you wonder “How can I teach voice in my writing program?” I hope you remember this suggestion and use it to engage your students in their writing journey.  

*For more information around writing, please visit Ruth Culham’s website at www.culhamwriting.com.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Burning The Worksheets!

Written by Rachel Wild, Instructional Coach

I recently had the opportunity to attend Ruth Culham’s creatively named session “Burning the Worksheets” at the Summit 15 literacy conference in Calgary.  Culham is best known for her work with the 6+1 Traits of Writing and her session demonstrated a method for working on writing conventions, called Writing Wallets.

Writing Wallets take the place of traditional worksheet practice for writing conventions. They provide a place for students to work at their own level, practicing and integrating the rules and conventions of writing into their own pieces. It requires little to no management or grading by the teacher and nudges students’ writing skills forward in a non-threatening and independent way.

Writing Wallets begin with a plain letter size folder for each student. The wallets could be personalized and decorated by students or left as they are. Each wallet should contain 2-4 of the students’ own writing pieces. The writing examples may include: quick writes, responses to literature, journal entries, self-reflection, “problem pieces” or any other short examples of raw writing. It is important that they are short writing pieces so students don’t get overwhelmed and that you limit the number to speed up the process. Teachers model the chosen convention in a brief mini-lesson and then students practice on their own writing.  As students practice the teacher circulates checking in with students to provide feedback and guidance. After they have practiced the convention, students can share with a writing partner how they edited or revised their own writing.  Periodically (Culham suggest every four weeks or so), a piece could be revised and finalized or students simply clear out the contents of the folder and begin again with 2-4 fresh pieces.  The goal is of this method is transference of these skills into student writing versus the isolated practice that emphasizes quantity over quality.

Ruth Culham’s website:

Monday, 2 May 2016

5 Questions Students Should Ask About Media

Thanks to Common Sense Media for this excellent article on how to critically assess media sources:

  • Integrate media literacy education into your lessons with prompts that will help students think critically about the media they consume and create. Read more

Yours in Learning,

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

System Learning Day - The Quantitative Data

Submitted by Rebecca Forchuk, Director of Staff Development
March 11th System Learning Day Quantitative Data

Foothills School Division values learning. This was clearly evident during System Learning Day on March 11th. This day allowed us the opportunity to hear a common message, work towards system goals and develop collective efficacy as we shared effective instructional practice across teachers from all schools in our division. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the teachers for such a productive day. Your engagement in the learning and process of the day speaks to the high level of professionalism, passion for lifelong learning, and dedication to improve learning for all students. The open and honest feedback provided through the exit slips, all 274 of them, will help us continue to improve these days moving forward.  We feel truly honoured to have you as part of the FSD family and could not have been more proud of the work that was accomplished!

Quantitative Data from Grades K-9:
Quantitative Data from High School:

Next Steps - Sharing The Qualitative Data:
We would like to share some of the qualitative data - aka feedback - you provided. Although the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, there were some great ideas brought forward, valid questions and insightful points worth sharing.   So, for the next few weeks, we will take the opportunity to share and respond to the feedback from System Learning Day and clarify any misconceptions, respond to questions and acknowledge some insightful, relevant comments.

As we have read through the various comments from the exit slips, we understand it is difficult to meet the needs of everyone who attends System Learning Day as there are hundreds of you. However, we are committed to using those two days to support system goals while promoting collaboration amongst schools and providing time to work on the work.  From the feedback, it is extremely clear that teachers in FSD are committed to doing what is best for students and improving instructional practice in order to improve learning.   Once again, we would like to thank you for participating fully in the day as well as sharing insightful feedback.  

We will continue to use the blog to respond to your posts as well as share more of the research from Hattie.  The next blog post will address why the top 10 list on March 11th did not match the list found online.  There is an intentional reason.