Argument Writing Toolkit- String of Quotes (Create Variety)

Sometimes in student writing you will see a string of quotes, where students move from one quote to the next to the next without a break in between.  These students are usually struggling with how to create variety in their inclusion of text evidence or how to evaluate and choose the most effective piece of text evidence.  So this tool is actually two strategies that would be taught separately.  Students could use either strategy to eradicate a string of quotes.

0001 (1)

In this post, I’ll share the first strategy to create variety (you can see the second strategy to rank and evaluate evidence here).

To begin, the teaching point is:

Teaching Point- String of Quotes- Create Variety

I demonstrated this strategy by modeling the process with my own writing.  First, I shared a piece that portrayed the problem.  My first try has 5 quotes back to back, which all essentially say the same thing– that competitive sports cause injuries.

try 1

Next, I referred to the String of Quotes teaching chart (the first image from above) to show some of the ways that students can create variety when including text evidence into their piece.  I modeled how to change each of the quotes using ellipses, paraphrasing, listing/citing sources, etc.  My new paragraph looked like this:

try 2

I used small sticky flags to point out the different techniques used to create variety.   I also shared a teaching chart with the students that exemplifies those same techniques.

String of Quotes-Create Variety

Finally, students worked on adding variety in their own piece by finding a paragraph that had a string of quotes, choosing a technique to try, and revising their piece while I coached in.

What do you think? Try this out in your room.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Next time, I’ll share how you can help students avoid a string of quotes by evaluating and using the most effective piece of evidence.

Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

 

 

Argument Writing Toolkit- Shortening Quotations

A common struggle for students when incorporating text evidence into their arguments is they choose quotes that are too long.  Then the piece becomes dominated by a voice other than the author’s.  It’s important to strike a balance between one’s own voice and that or the article quoted.  In argument writing, the author should highlight his or her opinions and reasoning.  A good rule of thumb is that the evidence should only be about 5-10% of the piece.

To help students strike this balance, I put together a small group titled, “Allowing Your Writing to Shine”

At the start of the small group, I began by sharing the teaching point:

Teaching Point- Using Key Portion of Quote

Then I showed students my first try with the original text evidence/ quote highlighted.  This allowed students to see just how quote heavy my original work was.  Next I modeled how I reread to pull out and focus on only the key portions of the quote.  Right in front of students, I used a sharpie to strike out the extraneous parts of the quote– all the while demonstrating my thinking process.  Finally, I unveiled my newly revised second try, which portrays a much better balance between my voice and the quote.

Teaching Tool using Key Portion of Quote

After my demo, I had students point to a paragraph in their own writing piece where they felt text evidence outweighed their voice; and right in front of me, they began the work that I just modeled. While they did this, I coached into their work. Finally releasing the students when they seemed to get the hang of it.

I shared a teaching chart to help students visualize this strategy:

0001

 

So in my kit, I house all pieces of the lesson in a sheet protector, which I then keep in a binder that I carry with me around the room.  The writing samples always stay the same.  I pull  out “clean” versions each time I need to teach the lesson, and I make the same teaching moves.

Try this out in your room.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Conferring Toolkit Series

Thinking ahead is SO important.  As teachers, we are masters of keeping our feet firmly planted in the now, while our eyes look toward the future.  Simultaneously, we plan, prepare, and perfect current and next units of study–always asking, “What do my students need to be successful in this work?”

Argument writing is on the horizon, and to prepare for the unit, I’ve been working on a conferring toolkit.  In case you are unfamiliar with a conferring toolkit, it is a collection of tools to aid in the teaching of reading and/or writing strategies.  The toolkits can be used both during individual conferences or in small groups.   They might include marked up demonstration or anchor texts, annotated sample writings, teaching charts, rubrics, checklists, etc.

While thinking about the upcoming Argument unit, I recalled past student struggles as well as potential pitfalls .  One major hang up for students is how to effectively add text evidence into their argument.  In past years, this difficulty has popped up due to a myriad of common predictable problems all of which can be addressed with the following strategies:

Adding Evidence Strategies

But what tools do I have to teach these strategies??

Enter the conferring toolkit!!

Follow this Argument Writing Conferring Toolkit series as I share some of the teaching charts and tools I created to support students in this work!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Skills Vs. Strategy

Throughout my teaching career, there was something that I always had trouble wrapping my head around: the difference between a skill and strategy.  Like many educational terms, the definition depends on who you ask, so it was always a bit murky to me.

During my time working on various curriculum writing committees, I started running with my own definition of the terms…

To me,

  • a skill is “content” necessary  for reading understanding
    • narrative elements
    • character traits
    • main idea and supporting details
    • text structures
    • text features
      •  Nonfiction (index, heading, caption, etc)
      • Fiction  (stanza, line, stage direction, cast of characters, etc)
    • Etc.

A reader would have to know that all of these exist and they would have to be able to name them out in any given text.

  • a strategy is, well, a reading strategy.  Based off the work of Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann in their groundbreaking Mosaic of Thought, as well as Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’ Strategies that Work.
    • monitor comprehension
    • make connections
    • visualize
    • determine importance
    • Etc.

And so, I, Lindsay Pish, classroom teacher also threw my definition out there– adding to the myriad of voices.

However, in my work as a literacy coach I’ve come across some other definitions that have gotten me thinking about how my working definition might fit into the mix. Here are three others that I recently came across:

1. When I took this position as a literacy coach, I gained the responsibility of working with middle school teachers.  Middle school literacy was a new territory for me so I did a lot of professional reading on the subject, including Teaching Reading in Middle School by Laura Robb.

Robb describes strategies as the internal reading processes used to make sense out of print, while skills are isolated and out of context drills.  “Strategic reading means that when the learner practices a strategy, he has a conscious, in-the-head plan for comprehending, whereas skills are used without conscious planning.”  For example, students are told to practice a skill on a worksheet, but decide to use a strategy during their independent reading.  Skills are basic practice and can only be elevated to the level of strategy by linking practice to the student’s personal reading life.  “As students use strategies, they become more and more aware of their reasoning process as they make sense out of print, skills seldom involve this kind of self-awareness.”

This could somewhat fit with my definition of each.  The skills are the isolated parts of reading content, identifying narrative elements or text features, that are used to complete the more complicated strategies, inferring or synthesizing.  So you would have to have knowledge of the skill to consciously use a strategy.

2. While doing research for a new strategy-based resource curriculum that I am writing, a fantastic teacher let me borrow the book, Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities by Robert Reid, Torri Ortiz Lienemann, and Jessica L. Hagaman.

In their book, the authors define a strategy as being facilitative, essential, willful, and effortful.  Meaning that strategies facilitate performance or help do a task better–easier, more quickly.  They liken a strategy to a tool.  Tools help us do a task “to a higher standard with much less effort” and strategies do the same.  Strategies are essential in that they are are necessary for success.  The highest achieving students use strategies.  In turn, these students make a conscious effort to use a strategy and commit to its use.

The authors go on to say that a strategy is a “cognitive process that occurs inside our head” and often one strategy is used in combination with another.  The point of strategy use in the classroom, according to this text, is to help structure the effort put into a task and to act as reminder for what the next step in the process is.  The conclusive definition of a strategy in this book then becomes, “a series of ordered steps that help a student perform a task.”

While I agree that strategies are facilitative, essential, willful, and effortful–a process that happens entirely in our head,I am not sure that I agree with strategies acting only as a series of ordered steps, likened to the the use of a mnemonic device to remember the steps in a math computation (“Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”- parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction).  I would feel uneasy boiling down something as complicated as synthesizing two texts, into such a simplified process because I want to make sure that deeper understanding is present.

3. Finally, as a blogger I make sure that I keep up with other literacy-based blogs.  Recently blogger Annemarie, on Teacher2TeacherHelp did a series of posts on teaching strategically.

Annemarie would agree with the definition put forth by the authors of Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities.  She describes strategies as a mean to proficiently perform a skill.  Using Jennifer Serravello’s definition (from Teaching Reading Skills in Small Groups: Differentiated Instruction for Building Strategic, Independent Readers) that “strategies are the step-by-step how-tos for internalizing skills,” Annemarie explains that strategies are scaffolds put in place to help with the development of skills, and left in place only long enough for the student to become independent with the skill.

When a student has trouble with a skill, Annemarie describes how she asks herself, “How can I break this down?” and then works to find ways the skill can be broken down into manageable steps.  She reminds teachers to focus on their process for doing things, by listing across their fingers, “First, I…Then…Next, I…” to make internal processes more apparent.

Again, it boils down to the use of a step-by-step process.  However, I feel a bit more comfortable with Annemarie’s explanation, since I can see how it would work with say, determining the main idea.  The student has trouble with this skill and I can break that task down into steps:

  1. First, ask yourself what this passage is all about.
  2. Then, decide what the author is trying to tell you about that topic.
  3. Next, ask yourself if this is something that the entire passage focuses on, or just a small part.
  4. Finally, ask yourself what details you can find to support that idea.

The thinking behind the skill is being broken down, rather than the rote use of something like a mnemonic device.  And through my work with Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, I know that this definition would be their philosophy as well.  Their teaching points follow the form of, “Today I am going to teach you how to (a skill) by using ( a strategy).”  And that makes sense to me.

I also understand that skills can be leveled into a heirarchy, like Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.  Identifying text features is a low level skill, where as using text features to determine the main idea is a higher leveled skill.

So, where do I go from here? Now that I’ve completely muddled my own thinking…

I think I need to adjust my idea of what a skill is.  What I previously thought of as a skill, may be more of a topic or umbrella term, rather than an actual skill that students must aquire.  For example, one can not “narrative element”, but one can identify narrative elements or summarize using narrative elements.  Those are skills that could be supplemented with strategies in order for students to be successful at them.

This idea does not exactly tie in the comprehension strategies set forth in Mosaic of Thought or Strategies that Work, but maybe that’s okay.  I can accept the two different “types” and move forward.  Maybe like so many of our students, these terms do not have to fit into perfectly labeled categories.

What have you thought about on this topic?  I would love to hear your ideas or musings.

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay