A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Read the sentence and circle any of the nouns. Do this for sentences 1–10 on your noun worksheet and turn it in.
Does this sound familiar? Worksheet after worksheet, identifying all types of grammar with limited reasons to remember any of it beyond the lesson that day. Is understanding grammar important? Yes, it definitely is.
After teaching grammar this traditional way of using worksheets, I came to the conclusion that students weren’t fully grasping the concepts because nothing was relevant to them. They were simply circling answers to complete a task, but had little engagement in doing so. If I wanted my students to retain grammar rules, I needed to come up with something different, where students could apply their understanding in a meaningful way.
To begin each grammar concept, I used LearnZillion’s free write-along lesson. These are interactive video lessons for grades 3–8 aimed toward improving student writing. Each video focuses on a specific skill by modeling the process of revising or editing a blemished piece of writing. Students followed along using a practice sheet, culminated with a formative assessment where they can apply the skill to a new draft. This is a great site to build the foundation for the grammar skill you are working on with your students.
Next, I used EarthCam, a network of live webcams around the world. The students chose a destination, and then we traveled to the site and completed a free write of what we saw, focusing on incorporating the specific skill we were working on. Students loved applying the specific grammar skill while writing creatively. After a few minutes, students traded their writing, identifying the targeted skill. Afterward, students discussed their writing and if they used the grammar correctly. This was a great way to spark interesting discussions of their writing.
For homework, I used the National Geographic Photo of the Day. Students referred to this image to write a creative story, using the targeted skill of the week and previous skills we had worked on. Prior to leaving class, we used Google Earth to travel to the destination where the photo was taken, which built excitement, as these vivid images provoked students’ imaginations to come alive. In class the next day, I separated the students into groups of four, where they conferred about their writing, focusing on the grammar.
When working on dialogue, students paired with a student in class they didn’t know too well and interviewed that student. From this interview, they created a newspaper story using Fodey. In addition to working on dialogue, our classroom community became stronger, as students shared positive things with the class they learned about their classmate.
Every quarter, students worked together to create a writing project, incorporating the grammar we had focused on using technology tools such as Movie Maker, Animoto, Emaze, and Plotagon. Students then used Weebly, a site to make free websites, to display their learning to classrooms we collaborated with around the world, allowing them an opportunity to have an authentic audience.
Besides making significant gains on the Spring Measurement of Academic Progress test, students gained a loved for grammar, retaining the material better than any of my previous classes.
When I look back, it all came down to me changing my approach to how I taught grammar, and writing in general. Students didn’t need rote memorization, the way I was taught grammar growing up. They needed meaning, knowing why they were learning the specific skill and how it could be applied in their everyday lives. Every one of my students was capable of being successful; I just needed to offer them the right opportunities. If you are printing worksheets or pulling out those grammar workbooks, are your students engaged? Are you teaching grammar in isolation? Do students see meaning in what they are doing? Maybe it is time to reflect, finding ways for grammar to be more relevant for your students.
Brandi Leggett is a National Board Certified Teacher as a Middle Childhood Generalist. She received her master’s in Elementary Education from Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. She currently teaches third grade at Prairie Ridge Elementary in Shawnee, KS. Follow her class during the school year at Team Leggett.
The International Literacy Association (ILA) is dedicated to providing our members with the resources and expertise to inspire their students and each other in the charge for literacy. And it is in seeing the fruits of our members’ efforts that we, too, are inspired. Administrators and advocates, authors and librarians—their accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.
There are so many, we couldn’t fit them all in Literacy Today, so we offer our congratulations here. From teaching awards, to published works, to career milestones, we hope these accomplishments will inspire you, too.
Desiree Alexander, a media specialist at Zachary Career and Technical Center in Louisiana, received the 2015 School Library Media Specialist Award from the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. Alexander also facilitates distance learning and career education.
Kathleen Davin, a reading specialist at Key Elementary School in Virginia, was awarded an international literacy scholarship from the Virginia State Reading Association. Davin is the project leader of a literacy project in Guatemala cosponsored by the Greater Washington Reading Council.
Stephanie Grote-Garcia, assistant professor at the University of the Incarnate Word and board member of ILA’s Specialized Literacy Professionals SIG, won the Jack Cassidy Distinguished Service Award. This award is given annually by the Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE), a state affiliate of ILA.
Lindsey Parker, of North DeSoto Elementary in Louisiana, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award. A former ELA teacher, Parker serves as a master teacher for the school’s Teacher Advancement Program, in which she conducts weekly professional development meetings and practices team teaching. Parker’s activities also include creating guidebooks and assessments for ELA standards and serving as a teacher leader and advisor for the Louisiana Department of Education.
Vickie Plant, a kindergarten teacher at Golson Elementary School in Florida, was recognized with a Governor’s Shine Award, an honor reserved for those who display outstanding commitment to their students. Along with ILA membership, Plant is a member of the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Delise Hall Sanders was inducted into the Society of the Golden Key at the University of West Alabama, the highest honor given to a UWA graduate. Sanders retired in 2014 after teaching in the Sumner County School System in Tennessee for 18 years, though her teaching career spanned 40 years, including time spent in leadership positions in the North Central Reading Association and the Tennessee Reading Association.
David L. Harrison, Poet Laureate of Drury University in Missouri and poet/author of 90 books for young people and classroom teachers, wrote “Poetry, the Write Thing to Do” as Chapter 1 in ILA’s new release, Children’s Literature in the Reading Program: Engaging Young Readers in the 21st Century (4th ed.).
Judy Reinhartz, science literacy specialist, professor emerita, professional development consultant, and author, released her new publication, Growing Language Through Science: Strategies That Work, Grades K–5 (Corwin). The book offers a model for contextualizing language and promoting academic success for all students, particularly English learners.
Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, a professor in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State, and Teresa Sychterz, elementary education professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, released their coedited book, Adolescents Rewrite Their Worlds: Using Literature to Illustrate Writing Forms (Rowman & Littlefield). The book offers ways to engage middle grades students to read and write culturally authentic texts and to participate in 21st-century literacies.
Linda Goewey was named the new superintendent of the Hudson Falls Central School District in New York, effective July 1. She is currently serving as assistant superintendent of instruction and personnel at the Central Square Central School District.
Anne-Marie Harrison, of the Provo City School District in Utah, was named the district’s new executive director of teaching and learning. Harrison’s career includes time spent as an elementary school teacher, district literacy specialist, school improvement specialist, and principal. She most recently served as director of literacy and instruction for the Provo district.
Many struggling middle school–age readers are still developing their reading skills even when explicit reading instruction is usually no longer part of their general education curriculum. Strategies to overcome this challenge are summarized in publications including Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, ILA Resolutions and Position Statements for Adolescent Literacy, and Writing to Read. These summaries stress the importance of providing students with opportunities to interact with texts through discussion and writing. With the advent of social media and other digital tools, written discussions now occur online. As these environments become more prevalent in classrooms, ensuring that struggling readers have access to the scaffolds and supports that make possible their successful participation is important.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework based on the neurosciences, holds as a core belief that learner variability is the given. The UDL framework has been used recently to inform the development of an online reading environment for struggling adolescent readers, called Udio. Udio provides opportunities for students to participate in rich online discussions in support of reading comprehension.
I (Lori, a middle school teacher) had the opportunity to use Udio as part of a pilot study to support student interest and motivation in reading. I was excited about providing my students an opportunity to use online discussion as a way to interact more deeply with texts. Right from the beginning, students made it clear that they wanted to make their reading a social event, inviting others to read the same article so that they could engage in a conversation. However, the early online discussions consisted of short statements like “Yeah, I liked that, too” or “I agree.” Students needed additional supports and structures to develop meaningful discussions.
I began by reminding students that they had read folk tales in ELA, and we were going to read a folk tale on Udio. I asked students to read the folk tale article and then post a comment. We had been working on using evidence in our responses, and I was disappointed to see that students hadn’t posted much on Udio. I saw also that some students hadn’t understood the folk tale, so I printed the article, and students read it again, silently. We then had a face-to-face discussion about the article, discussing what happened to the main character and what is the moral of the story. I then asked students to read it one more time, online, and respond to each other using the sentence starters “First I thought…” “Now, I think…” suggested by Steve Graham.
This time, students engaged in a rich online discussion and deepened their understanding of the article. They were able to agree or disagree with each other online and used evidence to support their thinking.
After this experience, students engaged in a conversation about the differences between online and offline discussion. For this conversation, students used their extensive knowledge of online discussions from gaming environments in addition to our class work.
Students’ reported benefits of online discussions included
Students’ reported benefits of face-to-face discussions included
Students found that both types of discussions improved their understanding; however, the online discussions connected with their out of school literacy life online and was very motivating.
Udio is still under research and development. The following are links to tools and environments that support online discussions:
Ensure students have access to texts with Text-to-Speech readers
Provide interesting age-relevant texts
Provide ways for students to share their thinking through online discussions
The contents of this article were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education (#H327M11000). However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Lori DiGisi is an administrator for Framingham Public Schools and a member of the ILA Board of Directors. Peggy Coyne is a research scientist at CAST, Inc. This article is part of a series from ILA’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).
Staying active can be healthy as well as entertaining. Sports can provide both exercise and entertainment in many cases. The following books are about competition, rivalries, physical abilities or the lack of ability, friendship and sportsmanship. Enjoy these new titles that range from swimming to roller derby to the latest sports statistics.
Clothesline Clues to Sports People Play. Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook. 2015. Charlesbridge.
Through rhymed verse and clues hanging from clothespins, various sports are described for young readers to guess. Sports equipment, uniforms, clothing, and balls are just a few examples of the items dangling from the clothesline.
Henry Holton Takes the Ice. Sandra Bradley. 2015. Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group.
Henry is from a “hockey mad” family, but Henry is just not interested in hockey though he loves ice skating. When he discovers his real passion is ice dancing, his grandmother, who was once a figure skater, offers support.
Mustache Baby Meets His Match. Bridget Heos. 2015. Clarion /HMH Group.
Mustache Baby Billy has a play date with Baby Javier. As the two seem to compete in every activity they choose to do like teddy-bear rassling, hobbyhorse riding, magic, and many other supposed-to-be-fun things, play time turns into a competition and Mustache Baby finds himself on the losing side. He discovers one thing he can be first in, however, and friendship triumphs over rivalry.
Baseballogy: Supercool Facts You Never Knew. Kevin Sylvester. Annick.
Baseball trivia fans will enjoy the vast miscellany of information from bats, balls, and gloves to player information, salaries, tickets, and concessions. Though many baseball tidbits are not covered, the cartoon-like illustrations will give young baseball enthusiasts hours of entertainment while adding to their background knowledge of the U.S. national pastime.
Game Time, Mallory! Laurie Friedman. 2015. Darby Creek.
Part of the Mallory series from Darby Creek publishers, this first-person narration is told from Mallory’s experience being part of her fourth-grade basketball team. Hesitating and making mistakes when she first gets into play, her anxiety starts to take over. Through good advice from her coach and friends and family, she starts to improve. Of course, there are those players who love to harass and make fun but eventually Mallory proves her worth on the team.
Growing Up Pedro. Matt Tavares. 2015. Candlewick.
Though the title refers to Pedro Martínez, this story is really about Pedro and his older brother Ramón, as they work hard to become Major League baseball players, leaving their home in Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic. The L.A. Dodgers draft Ramón first, and a few years later Pedro gets his chance. The book continues to discuss their rise to fame even when having to face each other on the pitcher’s mound from opposing teams. Today, the brothers have returned to their homeland and built a new life helping schools and neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic. The watercolor and gouache illustrations create expressive warmth to represent the family bond between these successful brothers.
Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Baseball. Howard Bryant. 2015. Philomel/Penguin Group.
From ESPN and the world of sports writing and information, author Howard Bryant has collected baseball information that will give every baseball fan the thrill of having all this noted baseball history in one volume. More than just trivia, but actual background information on baseball legends and history, this chronology provides facts on statistics to comebacks to drug-related issues and so much more. Illustrated with photographs and highlights from many seasons, this volume will be enjoyed by sports fans as it precedes the fall publication of the football edition.
A Whole New Ballgame. Phil Bildner. 2015. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Former classroom teacher, author Phil Bildner has written a story about fifth graders and their differences and the labels and stereotypes that often inhabit their world. Rip and his best friend Red, who readers will recognize quickly is on the autism spectrum, are starting school with Mr. Acevedo, a new teacher who is different from any teacher they have had before, with his tattoos and body piercings. Mr. Acevedo loves basketball, as do Rip and Red. When the fifth-grade team gets going, lots of team dynamics are at play. Though Red isn’t much good at the overall game, he is dead-on at the free-throw line. Place Avery, the girl in the wheelchair, on the court, and a whole new set of teamwork issues confronts the team. Enjoy more about this author and his books at his website and blog.
Lost in the Sun. Lisa Graff. 2015. Philomel/Penguin Group.
Trent Zimmerman is wracked with guilt from the freak accident last year when he knocked a hockey puck into the chest of Jared Richards, killing him. Jared had an undiagnosed heart ailment, and the impact from the hockey puck proved fatal. Now Trent must live with Jared’s death, and in his child’s mind he is a horrible person, certain that everyone hates him, including his friends, family, and teachers. His divorced parents don’t make life any easier. He lashes out at everyone, his grades are falling, he gets in fights, and he won’t go out for any sport that had once been the highlight of his life. Things start to change when he meets Fallon Little, a girl with a scar whose vitality for life gives Trent a new way of looking at life.
Roller Girl. Victoria Jamieson. 2015. Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin.
Written by a real derby girl herself, Victoria Jamieson has created a graphic novel about girls, roller derby, and middle school. When 12-year-old Astrid discovers she loves roller derby and signs up for summer derby camp , her best friend Nicole parts ways with her when she decides to go to dance camp. Astrid proceeds with her plan to become a great derby queen but quickly discovers she might not be as talented as she hoped to be. The hip checks and elbow digs come flying faster than she imagined. She starts to doubt her talent and her entry into middle school in the fall as well as friendships that are shifting in new directions.
The Sixth Man. John Feinstein. 2015. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
This is book two in the Triple Threat series from popular sports author John Feinstein. Basketball season is here, and there is a new kid at school who is going out for the team. Triple threat Alex Myers watches as this new kid, Max Bellotti, brings a whole new level of talent to the basketball team. The upperclassmen players aren’t happy about letting a freshman steal the show while they sit on the bench. When word gets out that Max is gay, the controversy begins. Knowing Max can lead the Lions to a championship, the community response to Max’s sexuality becomes not only an issue for the school board but also an acceptance within the team.
Yard War. Taylor Kitchings. 2015. Wendy Lamb/Penguin Random House.
Set in Jackson, MS, in 1964 just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, this story is more about the segregated South than about sports, though a football game provides the backdrop for the story. Twelve-year-old Trip lives with his family and his beloved maid, Willie Jane, who is like his second mother. When Trip invites Dee, Willie Jane’s son, to join a game of football at their house, the neighborhood bigotry comes out in a blast of racist remarks and actions. The language is true to the time period of the 1960s and will make readers cringe at this historic look at segregation and prejudice.
Biggie. Derek E. Sullivan. 2015. Albert Whitman.
Henry “Biggie” Abbott is a high school junior in Finch, IA. Biggie has earned his nickname because he weighs over 300 pounds. Finding ways to stay below the radar of ridicule, especially as he lives in the shadow of his professional baseball player father, Biggie creates an online presence to avoid his loneliness in real time. When the fake passes that excuse him from gym class are discovered, he is forced to participate in wiffle ball—where he pitches a perfect game. Now he considers a metamorphosis for himself and develops a goal to earn a spot on the school’s baseball team, pitch a perfect game, and win the heart of the girl he loves.
Hit Count. Chris Lynch. 2015. Algonquin.
Arlo has set goals for his football career from an early age. Through hard and incessant training, he becomes an outstanding football player by his sophomore year. Earning the nickname Starlo, he continues through high school hard hitting, receiving and taking tackles and blows to maintain the football stardom that he so desires. Divided into four sections representing his four years in high school, this book reveals changes in Arlo that readers, as well as his coaches, parents, and girlfriend, will start to see. Taking all those blows to his head is starting to take a toll, and Arlo’s cognitive and emotional abilities are being questioned, suggesting that he is heading down a path to self-destruction.
A Matter of Heart. Amy Fellner Dominy. 2015. Delacorte/Random House.
Sixteen-year-old Abby Lipman is a champion swimmer for her high school swim team and is hopeful for qualifying for the Olympics Trials in the 100-freestyle event. However, Abby has a fainting spell after one of her meets, and after a visit to her doctor, finds out that she has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that has been known to kill top-performing high school athletes. Abby’s whole life, including her best friend Jen and her boyfriend Connor, has been centered on the swimming pool. The author delves into the reactions of all the people in Abby’s life as they respond to this life-altering medical condition. Abby’s decision is her own as she digs to find out who she is without a championship swimming career. Beyond just a sports book, this is a look at self-awareness and projecting toward a future.
Karen Hildebrand is a retired library media specialist and library director for Delaware City Schools in Delaware, OH. She is currently an adjunct professor at Ashland University in Ohio, a reading consultant, and a Holocaust Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. She also chairs the Education Curriculum Committee for the Delaware County Historical Society. The review contributions are provided by members of the International Literacy Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group.
To be fully engaged citizens in a world of local, national, and global events, our students need to be informed and able to sort critically through the ubiquitous flow of news and information. Growing up in Washington, DC, and having a father, grandfather, and uncle in the newspaper business, the news, particularly in print, largely influenced my perspective of the world. Remember “News Fridays” when we were challenged to find, cut out, and bring a newspaper article to class to be shared? Things were so simple then!
I write this article amid a flurry of news events that come to me not only in the newspaper but also as alerts on my phone, iPad, laptop, and digital reader. News about Supreme Court decisions on the affordable care act and marriage equality, news of tragedy and human triumph in Charleston, of a manhunt in New York, attacks in Paris, Tunisia, and Kuwait stream in with discussion and commentary online and on air. We need to equip our students to critically evaluate the flood of information, to make sense of the range of viewpoints, and to gather knowledge to build and support their own perspectives. Of the many resources featuring current events, there are two websites that offer classrooms tools to continue to do the critical thinking necessary to comprehend multiple perspectives.
Newsela offers nonfiction daily news across disciplines. High-interest topics are organized in categories: war and peace, science, kids, money, law, health, arts, and sports, with most recent articles featured on the home page. Each article is available at five Lexile reading levels (3rd–12th) to differentiate learning while having the whole class work on the same content. Advertisement-free articles are updated each day and can be read by students for free using an access code that is given when teachers “create a class.” In this open online version, students can annotate articles, take quizzes, and view their progress. The subscriber version, Newsela Pro, allows teachers to see who read the story, made notes, and took the quiz, tracking individual and class results aligning with Common Core Standards organized in an electronic binder. With Newsela Pro, teachers can customize and review writing prompts.
Other resources include the Newsela Learning and Support webpage to answer questions about the site and to provide resources and teaching ideas. “For Teachers, By Teachers,” a section within Classroom Resources, offers lesson plans and related materials submitted by teachers using Newsela. A Write Toolkit and a Text Sets Toolkit extend the possibilities of using Newsela articles. The text set is a collection of articles about a theme, topic, or related standard that teachers can use or create. Included are teacher-submitted lessons and connections to larger units. A “Pro/Con” text set offers articles that present multiple viewpoints where students could annotate and make comments in gathering notes to compare and contrast perspectives. The Write Toolkit guides teachers to insert writing prompts, offering rubrics and examples.
ProCon.org is an independent nonprofit organization founded to “promote critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship—and to educate without bias” as noted in their mission statement. Founder Steven Markoff provides extensive background information on the about us page. Varying perspectives on 53 controversial issues are presented in readings across content headings, including education, elections and presidents, health and medicine, and media and entertainment. Each issue contains a core question, background information, and specific pro and con arguments. The exploration of issues is student oriented, presenting text along with video, infographics, and political cartoons. The pro and con arguments include excerpts from major newspapers and quotes from experts and politicians. One issue raises the core question “Are Cell Phones Safe?” then offers “Did You Know?” facts from medical and science sources before presenting the pro–con arguments, the evolution of the cell phone science, and some videos related to popular culture. Sources are cited with links, often full-text PDFs.
Teachers can introduce students to the site’s approach to evaluating credibility of sources with their 1–5 star “theoretical expertise ranking.” A “Teachers’ Corner” offers lesson plans with related handouts and suggestions to make the activity easier or harder. Lessons are connected to Common Core, NCTE/IRA, and NCSS standards. Resources are provided that address teaching critical thinking. A collection of 50 illustrated quotes from Aristotle to Howard Zinn offers insights on critical thinking to be used to inspire students to continue to think deeply.
Consider ways to integrate Newsela and ProCon into your efforts to support students in thinking deeply and developing an informed voice. I have used both sites as resources for a class activity in building perspectives on cell phone use in the classroom. We start with a discussion web: “Should cell phones be allowed in the classroom?” We generate our own ideas, then jigsaw several articles, including those from these two sites that further inform on the issue, and then revisit the discussion web. This leads to further discussion and then more group work as we simulate a school board meeting, with each of six groups using what they have read and learned to perhaps step into the shoes of an opinion they may or may not hold and create a speech for or against cell phones in the classroom from the student, teacher, and parent perspectives. By thinking critically, reading, discussing, and evaluating ideas in text and beyond, students have improved their argument as informed citizens in the world.
Denise H. Stuart is a professor in the Curricular & Instructional Studies department at the University of Akron, Ohio. This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).