Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Connecting Writing with Media Literacy
(c) Thoughtful Learning

You routinely connect writing with reading, but how often do you connect writing with media literacy? It's a symbiotic relationship. You teach students to write about different topics for different audiences and purposes. They can use the same skills to engage media about different topics for different audiences and purposes.

Most writing teachers, though, wouldn’t consider themselves media-literacy coaches. They might not even know how to define media literacy: the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create communication in various media formats.

The same critical-thinking skills you teach in the writing process can help your students evaluate media for truth, fairness, and bias—skills increasingly necessary for academic success and responsible citizenship. Likewise, developing media-literacy skills prepares students to ethically share ideas in writing.

How can the writing process teach media literacy?

Students learn that good writing takes time—prewriting, writing, revising, and editing. As the old saying goes, "Easy writing makes hard reading, and hard writing makes easy reading." So students learn to appreciate well-crafted ideas—and, equally importantly, dismiss shoddy ideas when media are slapped together. Thoughtful writers make thoughtful readers, listeners, and viewers.

Let's look at each stage of the writing process to see how it can help you teach media literacy.

Prewriting

To meet the specific demands of a writing task, students should first consider the communication situation—sender, message, medium, receiver, and context:

Students who can analyze the rhetorical situation for writing can also analyze the same situation for the media they consume. All media is constructed, so all students can learn to deconstruct it—breaking it into its parts, considering how they work, and evaluating them. This rhetorical awareness helps students use sources ethically and reject media that uses them unethically.

This video can introduce the communication situation to your students:

girls dancing and jumping in mid-air
Derek Latta/Shutterstock.com

“So, you’re a teacher. What do you teach?”

“I teach children.”

In an environment of standards and assessments, we sometimes struggle to focus on the kids, who are, after all, the reason we teach. Yes, they can be infuriating, but they can also be amazing and inspiring. The greatest moment for us is when that light comes on in a student’s eyes, when the child “gets it” for the first time. It’s like a sunrise that only we get to witness.

So education is about reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, but before all of those, it’s about kids—minds, bodies, and souls. The whole child. We all instinctively know this, but so little of our curriculum reflects it.

Sobering Statistics

Over 70 percent of us recognize the importance of teaching social-emotional skills, not only for the well-being of our students but also for easier classroom management and higher test scores. However, a recent article in Education Week presents some sobering facts:

  • 43 percent of us aren’t sure how “to help students who appear to be struggling with problems outside of school."
  • 23 percent of us say our biggest struggle is helping “students who appear to be experiencing emotional or psychological distress."
  • 50 percent of students in the U.S. experience childhood traumas such as neglect or abuse, which impact their learning and remain with them for the rest of their lives.
  • Less than 40 percent of us have learned teaching strategies for dealing with childhood trauma.

So we do what we always do—figure it out. Lacking formal training, 70 percent of teachers rely on talking with students to help coach them through emotional distress. But most of us would prefer concrete strategies that we can easily learn and teach without derailing our content instruction.

Cats dropped upside down land on their feet. How? It’s not magic. They go through a process.

The cat first realizes it is falling upside down.

It then spins its tail to turn its head and front legs toward the ground.

It continues to spin its tail to counteract the spin of its back legs.

Its feet extend, and its back arches to serve as shock absorbers.

Its legs and back absorb the impact.

Image from Agence Nature/Science Source

Don’t try this at home. (Afterward, the cat usually scratches the person who dropped it and never will love that person again.)

Successful adults act pretty much the same way. Constantly dropped upside down, they land on their feet (and dislike those who dropped them). How do adults do it? It’s not magic. They use the problem-solving process, which is just as effective and undignified as the falling-cat process—and just as likely not to be taught in schools.

To help your students prepare for “adulting,” teach them the problem-solving process.

While most people spend August sipping sun tea and binge-watching Stranger Things, teachers spend it kicking off the new school year. So. Much. To. Do. We have to set up our classrooms on newly shined floors, decorate our boards, deploy our reading materials, get the printer and laminator dancing like a pair of tango champions. . . . If only there were free online lesson plans to teach student-centered writing!

There are.

If you complement your reading program with one of the writing handbooks from Thoughtful Learning, you have a free online Teacher’s Guide that gathers and organizes your resources, all in one place! Relieve a little stress. Find what you need. Seriously, this three-minute video is better than yoga for teachers in August:

How to Nurture a Writing Mindset
Thoughtful Learning

Mindset plays a pivotal role in learning. Students who approach writing with confidence and enthusiasm are much more likely to persist through challenges than students who feel fearful and discouraged by it. Unfortunately, the latter category includes many students in our classrooms.

This year, let's nurture a positive mindset toward writing. But what classroom practices will help, and how can we measure progress?

Empowering Writers

To nurture a positive writing mindset in our students, we can incorporate some best practices into our classrooms.

  • Invite students to write about topics of personal interest.
  • Build choice into writing assignments.
  • Immerse students in examples of good writing.
  • Model effective reading and writing strategies.
  • Balance freedom and structure (by teaching the writing process).
  • Use minilessons to teach skills that writers can immediately apply.
  • Focus your feedback on solutions, not problems.
  • Be flexible about grammar and correctness.
  • Make time for reflection.
  • Point students to effective writing resources.

(Learn more about these best practices.)

Surveying Growth

To measure our students’ evolving mindsets, we can use entrance and exit surveys, like the ones that follow.

Writing and Thinking
thoughtfullearning.com

With so much content to teach, we often focus on getting students to remember, understand, and apply information. That's no small feat! But Bloom's Revised Taxonomy suggests that we help students go deeper—analyzing and evaluating and eventually creating. Sure . . . but how?

Why not visually? For most of us, seeing is believing. When we can visualize abstract concepts and relationships, we gain a greater grasp of them. You can use a ready-made set of graphic organizers, checklists, and other visuals to help your students analyze, evaluate, and create.

Analyzing

When students analyze information, they break it into its parts, examine each part closely, and study how the parts fit together. Engineers and lawyers and medical professionals analyze constantly, so helping students develop this thinking skill can improve their success well beyond your classroom.

You can use these minilessons with downloadable graphic organizers to help students analyze:

Chain Link

And and or may be little, but they are fierce: They connect ideas not only in writing but also in math and logic. For instance, Boolean algebra uses and and or to determine the logical relations of compound propositions. These little words also make computers work. Because of and and or, you can send an email, share a selfie, like a meme, and access your bank account.

In fact, recent studies suggest that we should do more to directly teach these and other conjunctions. If developing writers can't use them effectively, they will struggle to formulate and express ideas. And readers need help with connectors, too.

And, or, but, nor, for, yet, and so can empower writing in many ways:

  • Connecting two or more words, phrases, or clauses
  • Combining choppy sentences to create a smoother flow
  • Elaborating simple sentences and ideas
  • Expressing relationships between concepts
  • Fixing comma splices and run-ons
  • Signaling comparisons, contrasts, causes, and effects
  • Creating cohesion
  • Creating surprise

The following minilessons help students understand and use these little but fierce words.

8 Best Practices for Mentoring Young Writers
Thoughtful Learning

“There are moments as a teacher when I'm conscious that I'm trotting out the same exact phrase my professor used with me years ago. It's an eerie feeling, as if my old mentor is not just in the room, but in my shoes, using me as his mouthpiece.”

—Abraham Verghese

Who was your mentor? Who first helped you see yourself as a teacher? As a writer?

Every day in class, you have the chance to be that person for someone else. Every time you respond to students' writing, you help them build confidence and competency, help them self-identify as writers. What's more, regular feedback drives revision, a crucial practice that beginning writers tend to misunderstand or ignore.

Of course, the awesome pedagogical value of individual feedback also poses an awesome teaching challenge. How can you ensure your responses to student writing are frequent, effective, and efficient? The eight best practices that follow will help you meet the challenge.

Teaching Teenagers
Chris Krenzke/Thoughtful Learning

It takes a special soul to want to teach teenagers. How often have you heard, "I'd never want to teach middle school!"?

I personally love that age. Teenagers haven't yet figured out who they are, so if I can teach them something that empowers them, they grab onto it and transform before my very eyes. They are so full of energy and potential that, given a meaningful direction, they will launch themselves toward a goal or endeavor.

Of course, without a meaningful direction, teenagers can also explode on the launchpad.

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