Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book review botheration

My students are writing a book review blog. I've been excited about this project since reading The Book Whisperer at the beginning of summer. It goes live next week, but I have a problem.

We worked together as a class to identify what a good book review looks like. We looked at professional reviews from The Horn Book and The Children's Book Review, and student-written book reviews at Reader Views Kids. But we were most impressed by the reviews from This Kid Reviews Books. Inspired by his format, my kids decided to write book reviews in two sections: a summary followed by their opinion.

Altered books by Bryan Elementary students
As the teacher, I led discussions about what made for a good book review. We read about writing book reviews and revising with a partner from the Writer's Express handbook. I wrote an example review using the format we chose as a class. I've offered suggestions on their Google Docs. Still, about a third of my students haven't written a quality book review yet. 

Some of my kids' reviews lack detail. When I push for more, they say that more detail would result in giving spoilers. Other reviews lack specifics in the opinion section and just say "it was a good book," without giving examples of the things that made it shine.

Other students have written beautiful reviews that tell just enough about the book to entice a reader. The opinions include reasons why the characters or settings were just right and comparisons to other books. Those reviews are ready to publish and represent the type of work I expect from students in an advanced learning program.

I'm struggling with where to go from here. I know that we'll post the detailed reviews this week, but not the others. This year, I've been working at building a culture of going back to review and revise work until it is top quality. I'm not allowing students to get a low grade and move on. How do I continue to support those students to develop their writing? Where do I find the balance between pushing them to improve and motivating them to write?

Please let me know if you have some ideas. I want my 4th and 5th graders' writing to shine. I know we can get there with some more time and effort. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Making ideas real: #slowchatED December 8-12

Since joining Twitter, #SlowChatEd has been one of my favorite hashtags. Since it runs for an entire week, it was always a little different than the other, sometimes frantic Twitter edchats I join in on. But when the school year started, #SlowChatEd disappeared. I figured it went on a short hiatus while the usual moderators were "September busy." The hiatus dragged on, and #SlowChatEd slipped to the back of my mind.

Then, a couple weeks ago, Ross LeBrun revived #SlowChatEd to talk about being thankful. Although I couldn't participate for the entire week, I was reminded how much I liked the slow chat format. So, this coming week I plan to hijack (I mean moderate) #SlowChatEd to talk about "making ideas real."

As I've shared before, joining Twitter has done wonders for me as a teacher. Before Twitter, I was still an avid reader of big education websites like Edutopia and a few teacher blogs. I attended conferences and professional development classes whenever I got the chance and I was always looking for new ideas in my classroom. When I hear a great idea, I want to put it into action right away! Sometimes, though, I had so many great new ideas that I just couldn't make them work. Being on Twitter has only made it worse - my TweetDeck columns are never-ending waterfalls of new ideas. How can I make the best of these ideas into reality?

Image by nocturnal~schism
I'll be posting one question or prompt each day for the next week. Since it is a slow chat, please feel free to respond in multiple tweets, post links to resources, and ask questions of the other participants. Here are the questions:

Monday: Share an idea you recently implemented in your school.

Tuesday: What are your favorite sources for new ideas?

Wednesday: How do you manage the flow of ideas?

Thursday: Share an idea you are working on now. How are you moving from idea to reality?

Friday: How can we support each other and our colleagues to implement new ideas?

I have a few follow-up questions in mind for some of the days, too. I hope this will be a valuable discussion and I hope to see you there!